“Asking for Help is a Sign of Strength” — Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin, President and CEO of Parents Anonymous

Contact CBJ

This article discusses sensitive topics such as suicide and other potentially disturbing content. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or self-harm, please reach out for help. The California Parent and Youth Helpline is 855-427-2736.

“If you don’t have sex with me, I’m going to kill myself.”

These are words that no one wants to hear, but what if you didn’t hear them; your 13-year-old daughter did at school.

You know the boy and you know his family, but what you don’t know is what to do next.

Should you keep your daughter home from school? Should you call his mother, or should you call the police?

The parent in this situation called the California Parent and Youth Helpline®, a free service that offers emotional support to adults, children, and youth in the state. A trained counselor informed her of the available options and advised her to talk to the principal, the school counselor, and the police, enabling her to get a juvenile restraining order against the boy.

Now in its fourth year, the California Parent and Youth Helpline is a partnership between Parents Anonymous®, Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Social Services. Created in May 2020, the nonprofit organization offers a 24/7 helpline in over 240 languages, online and in-person parenting support groups and mental health services — all free of charge. Their motto is “Asking for Help is a Sign of Strength®” and it’s something that Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin, President and CEO of Parents Anonymous, takes to heart. “There isn’t any issue you can’t call us about,” she says. “The more we can do to support parents, children and youth, the more we do to support entire families.”

Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin, President and CEO of Parents Anonymous

Parents Anonymous was founded in Los Angeles County in 1969 and has stayed local since. Headquartered in Claremont, the Helpline employs trained counselors who offer emotional support via phone, text or live chat. To date, the California Parent and Youth Helpline, which Parents Anonymous oversees, has had over 780,000 interactions with Californians seeking emotional support. Of those interactions, 25% are with youth opting to use text or live chat to communicate with counselors. Adults, she says, are more likely to call. On average, Parents Anonymous staff handles about four or five emergencies, like suicide ideation or gun violence, per week, and counselors stay on the phone (or text or chat) until help or law enforcement arrives. The counselors can also help callers find in-person help; over 60,000 interactions include comprehensive resource referrals. They also offer Free Weekly Online Parents Anonymous® Support Groups online to anyone in a parenting role in both English and Spanish.

To say her team is making an impact would be an understatement. Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin says her team exceeds their goals every week. In fact, they could do even more if they had the funding (funding from the state is up for renewal in 2025).

“What’s more important is how we measure impact. People are looking for that human connection, especially when it comes to personal issues around mental health,” she explains that an independent evaluator, who chooses recorded calls at random, determined that within the first six minutes of an exasperated parent calling into the helpline, the anger level of that parent goes down, and the sentiment toward their child goes up. Given that the average call is 26 – 30 minutes long, that first six minutes is crucial – and impressive.

Also, parents and guardians, who are willing, able and meet certain criteria, are invited to join in-person support groups in the greater Los Angeles area (non-LA parents can join online groups). These professionally facilitated weekly free sessions are a godsend for struggling parents, but they offer much more than positive parenting support. They’ve become real mini-communities and nurturing environments. Dr. Lisa  says parents feel more resilient after participating in a support group and genuinely enjoy being able to depend on each other during group therapy. Their children and youth up to age 18 simultaneously attend a face-to-face group to address their underlying emotional issues based on 12 Monthly Themes.

“Even during Covid, parents were attending Parents Anonymous online support groups. After three months, we saw that the parents enhanced their well-being and their children thrived.” So much so that the children of these parents exceeded the Child Flourishing Index, on average.

Parents and supporting parents are at the core of what both Parents Anonymous and the Helpline seek to do. One of the challenges, Dr. Lisa says, has been getting school districts to include parents in a helpful, non-punitive way. Too often, she says, parents are blamed for a child’s poor behavior. “At Parents Anonymous, we believe that parents need to not be discounted,” she says. “I tell the schools, you’re never going to help these children unless you support the parents.”

“We want everyone in a family to be supportive of one another,” she says. “Not be focused on blame and shame — we need to address what’s going on around us.”

She credits May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, with promoting openness around mental health, but she thinks it could be more impactful. “Yes, awareness is important, but what is that? Acceptance goes a long to see you’re not alone.”

Acceptance, she argues, is what truly makes a difference for those suffering from depression or anxiety. Acceptance can mean supporting them from afar, by being an advocate, taking action or just being a good listener. Sometimes, she says, the words “I hear you,” can save lives.

A May 2024 survey from pharmacy retailer CVS and Morning Consult revealed that even though Covid feels far behind us, mental health concerns continue to rise. An estimated 65% of adults are concerned about their mental health, which is six percentage points higher from 2022 and 15 percentage points higher than 2020. About 48% of Americans say they find help in well-being apps or therapists (55%) for help and support.

The California Parent and Youth Helpline is free all day, every day, and available to all Californians, regardless of income bracket. During these evidence-based interactions, counselors ask only for the parent or child’s first name and the city they’re calling from. There is no call limit or time limit to an interaction.

After 32 years, Dr. Pion-Berlin knows her team is making a difference in people’s lives, but continued funding is needed to help and reach more people. “The science is very clear. If we deal with our underlying emotions, like fear and loss, then we are better able to set forth a positive life course for both parents, children and youth. And keep going.”

For more information or to live chat with a trained counselor, visit https://caparentyouthhelpline.org/

You may also call or text 855-427-2736 at any time of day.

Copyright © 2024 California Business Journal. All Rights Reserved.

Picture of Victoria Kertz, Staff Writer, California Business Journal
Victoria Kertz, Staff Writer, California Business Journal

California Business News, California News Media, California business articles | Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, Inland Empire, Northern California, San Francisco
California Business Journal
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
(949) 648-3815

Site Design by 1REALTOUR