Updated: Oct 6, 2019
Allegheny Family Network (The parent company of PA Parent and Family Alliance) is a family run organization that offers parents and families peer support. The CEO of this nonprofit organization, Ruth Fox, raised a daughter who was diagnosed with depression and agoraphobia at a young age. She has taken her difficulties and her love of helping people and transformed it into an incredibly successful career in the mental health field. We sat down with Ruth to get her insights on raising a child with mental health or emotional challenges as well as some advice for families going through similar situations.
How do you make sure all of your children feel special?
I was a teenage mother, and after my husband had passed I was also a single mother. On top of both of those things my youngest daughter was diagnosed with depression and agoraphobia. My best advice for families struggling with this balance is to make sure you set aside a little bit of time every day for each of your children, even if it’s for 10 minutes. I know that raising a child with a mental health or emotional difficulties can be hard for families, it can also be very hard for the siblings. I wish there was sibling support groups and family counseling back when I was raising children and I want to encourage parents to utilize these services now.
What do you do when people around you don’t understand?
I was faced with a lot of people who did not understanding my daughter's struggle. The church I worked at viewed mental health difficulties as “evil” and their advice for me was to “pray it away”. I did a lot of praying, but it never solved anything. I needed to seek professional help. The stigma around mental health issues was so strong that even members of my own family were not able to understand what was happening. They would often ask questions about what was "wrong" with my child. The invisible nature of mental health can cause people on the outside to judge and oversimplify the challenges. Ruth’s best advice is to seek out friends, supportive family members, and professional help that will actually listen to you and attempt to understand.
What do you do when you feel alone?
When you’re in the thick of it and have no support you really do feel so alone. Being a single parent on top of raising a child with depression and agoraphobia was incredibly isolating for me. I was a parent before the technology boom and never had access to the kind of resources that families have today. At their fingertip’s families are able to find the help they need. Today there are a large number of amazing organizations that advocate for families and work around the clock to make their lives, and the lives of their children easier. I am very proud to work in an industry that provides this kind of support to parents and families. If you are a family member in need of support check out the PA Parent and Family Alliance resource page.
What do you have to say to healthcare professionals?
My advice to healthcare professionals is simple; listen to the families. I want to remind these professionals that the families know their children and it is crucial that they all work together and hear each other out to best help the child. Organizations like Allegheny Family Network work with families on how to speak to nurses and doctors in a way that gets their concerns heard without raising tension. The relationship between the two parties needs to be one that is respectful and has open communication.
What do you do when you are faced with hurdles?
I have never really looked at anything as a hurdle, more like a challenge and then go after it. This kind of positive outlook has allowed me to transform my life and eventually become CEO of AFN. I have not allowed the fact that I didn’t go to college to ever impact my career. My advice to families who are in the shoes I was in is to view your hurdles as challenges. As hard as it is keep pushing forward and ask for help when you need it.
Why are family run organizations so impactful?
I have made a career out of advocating for the kind of services I wish I was once offered. I know that it would have made a world of difference if she was given a family support partner when raising my children. I never had anyone that understood the pain, stigma, and sorrow I was dealing with every day, not to mention they could have made me aware of my rights with the school and in general. Parents often feel like their child’s difficulty is their own fault and pairing them up with someone who has been there helps to show them that it is not.
Overall Ruth wants families to celebrate the wins they get, no matter how small. Most importantly don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about anything and never be scared to ask for the help you need. If you are in need of peer support or are interested in learning more about it go to our resource page to learn more.