Two New Support Groups Offer Help and Healing In Trying Times

The pandemic has dramatically increased caregiving responsibilities, upset the timeless norms of grieving and loss, and barred access to typical coping strategies and routines. Two virtual support groups have been created to address these problems.

“If you don’t take care of yourself, then you can’t take care of anyone else,” explained Leslie Brody, LISW-S, LICDC-CS, the Director of Care Management, Counseling & Crisis Intervention at Jewish Family Service. “A lot of people who are good at being helpers are not always comfortable being helped.” That’s why AgeWell Cincinnati is teaming up with Jewish Family Service to create two new virtual support programs: one for caregivers and another for people who are struggling with grief. Both groups are open to anyone, of any age, who could benefit from this type of interactive counseling.

According to Brody, the goal of the Caregiver Support Group is to give people a place to talk, share, and be heard—while also encouraging them to seek help and respite. “We want to teach them that it’s okay to accept help, and that they’ll be able to help longer and more effectively if they accept that help,” she said. The Grief Support Group, though similar in structure and tone, will have a different focus. “We’ve had a number of clients and community members who have lost family members, and we wanted to offer some additional services to help folks get through this difficult time,” Brody noted.

 

“It’s important for folks to feel a part of a community. This has been so isolating for a lot of people, and it helps to know that you’re not alone.”

– Leslie Brody, LISW-S, LICDC-CS, Director of Care Management, Counseling & Crisis Intervention, Jewish Family Service

 

Since the start of the pandemic, 83 percent of US caregivers have reported an increase in stress—specifically related to their caregiving duties, according to a recent report from The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. Indeed, the study tells a cautionary tale: “With increased health and safety COVID restrictions being imposed on an already overburdened medical and home care workforce, unpaid home and family caregivers are being increasingly relied upon to provide complex care in the home—often without any training, respite, or ongoing support.”

Unfortunately, as the need for this kind of support has risen, the ability for caregivers to access or receive this support has declined. Brody has seen this scenario play out locally, since many of the coping skills people have developed to deal with depression, anxiety, stress, or loss are inaccessible. “Before the outbreak of COVID-19, we had caregivers who would come to the Mayerson JCC and have somebody watch their loved one so they could get a break,” she said. “But right now, everyone is homebound and what we’re seeing is a lot of 24/7 caregiver responsibility. What we worry about is called ‘caregiver stress,’ and that can become overwhelming.”

While Brody will be overseeing the Grief Support Group, Ann Stromberg, MSW, LISW, Emotional Wellness Counselor, will lead and moderate the Caregiver Support Group. “We wanted to get a group going to support the caregivers—especially people who are caring for someone with dementia—which is plenty hard enough on its own,” Stromberg said, “but with the addition of COVID, and being stuck at home, and the lack of other help, the need for support is becoming much more of an issue.”

Stromberg said the Caregiver Support Group will connect people with quality, professional help, and introduce them to others who are dealing with the same types of issues. “They can share information, get coping strategies, and find solutions, together,” she said. “We will talk a lot about keeping yourself healthy. Specifically, what to do when you’re extremely fatigued, anxious, or stressed.” Stromberg added that self-care and wellness can sometimes be as simple as getting outside. “Taking a few minutes to be present in the moment, and bring your attention to all of the things around you, can really help a person feel recharged.”

This focus on self-care can be uniquely beneficial for our older population. “Older adults have been hit particularly hard by COVID,” said Brody, “and they’re also at high risk, so many have been trying to stay home. Our hope is these support groups will help them not be isolated, and help them continue to feel like part of a community.”

Brody’s motivation to form the Grief Support Group was personal as well as professional. “My mom passed away in May, and we weren’t allowed to be with her,” she reflected. “There was no funeral, there was no shiva (mourning period). It’s been very, very difficult to go through our typical experiences in Jewish life and not be able to access our friends and family.” Brody knew that what was true for her was true for others in our community. “We’ve had clients who have lost spouses or other loved ones,” she said, “so we wanted people to have a place to talk about their loved ones—and what their loved ones meant to them—with folks who are also experiencing similar issues.”

In the end, for both Brody and Stromberg, these support groups are intended to reconnect people with each other. “It’s important for folks to feel a part of a community,” Brody emphasized. “This has been so isolating for a lot of people, and it helps to know that you’re not alone.” Stromberg stressed the community’s professional depth. “For those needing additional support,” she said, “it’s available through AgeWell Cincinnati, and their expert colleagues at Jewish Family Service.”

If you or a loved one could benefit from either of these support groups, please reach out to AgeWell Cincinnati. Their resources help clients maximize their quality of life, maintain their independence longer, and stay involved with our Jewish community. AgeWell Cincinnati can connect you to 68 services through one number: 513-766-3333.