Genesee County, MI—The Genesee Health System (GHS) is hosting listening circles as a way to support people’s mental health. By providing a safe and accessible space to participants, the Listening Circle program serves as an avenue for sharing, listening and education. 

Lisa Bruder, a facilitator of the listening circles and a master’s level social worker at GHS Behavioral Health Urgent Care, said the sessions offer participants the opportunity to tell their stories and to recognize the common threads they share with others. 

“The main objective is to bring people together that have similar life experiences [who] perhaps could benefit from an opportunity of storytelling and cultivating empathy with their peers,” Bruder said of the listening circles. 

Facilitated by Bruder and another master’s level social worker, the listening circles are open to the public via Zoom. Participants can choose to remain anonymous, and the sessions do not require health insurance or payment.

The listening circles include four themes, and the points of discussion within the themes depend on the needs of each group. 

Diversity, race and mental health 

During listening circles on diversity, race and mental health, participants have the space to discuss the ways in which their culture impacts their wellbeing and their ability to seek treatment. 

The stigma surrounding mental health discussions persists across many communities, especially in Flint’s community of African Americans and religious organizations, Bruder explained. But she said it is critical to examine how the intersection of mental health, diversity, race and inclusion impacts mental health.

(Photo courtesy of the Genesee Health System)

Parenting and challenging behaviors

Raising children, those with challenging behaviors and kids living with developmental disabilities and/or mental health issues is a major challenge. But in listening circles regarding parenting and challenging behaviors, sharing the hurdles of being a parent, finding common ground, as well as brainstorming caregiving and parental self-care strategies can go a long way in supporting parents, Bruder noted. 

“The listening circle for parenting is to normalize that parenting is hard and we make mistakes, and raising children who don’t have neurotypical profiles is hard,” she said. “We’re here to provide that extra support.”

(Photo courtesy of the Genesee Health System)

Trauma, stress and wellness 

Whether it be domestic violence, the loss of a loved one, sexual assault, divorce, and child abuse or neglect, trauma deeply impacts people’s physical and mental health, Bruder said. Through listening circles on trauma, stress and wellness, participants have the opportunity to discuss their life experiences, and to learn about the symptoms of trauma and strategies to care for oneself. 

(Photo courtesy of the Genesee Health System)

Maintaining sobriety and wellness during stress

There are many healthy ways to cope with stress, but stressful times can also lead to negative coping strategies like leaning on drugs and alcohol. 

“Stress naturally leads us [to adopting] coping skills sometimes that are great and sometimes [that] are not so great,” Bruder said. “So how do we stay self-aware with where we’re at in our wellness, and also be honest about what we’re considering and/or [are] already using to cope?”

Listening circles on maintaining sobriety and wellness during stress provide space to share about stressors in life. It also presents the chance to not only acknowledge the challenges of avoiding or stopping the use of substances, but also to understand the pillars of self-care, including sleep, hydration and movement, Bruder explained. 

(Photo courtesy of the Genesee Health System)

Bruder can be reached at lbruder@genhs.org for questions about the Listening Circle program.

Nicholas Chan

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...

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