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Local organizations offer virtual mental health, grief support amid pandemic
mental health

The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it, leaving many in isolation, without a job or missing a loved one lost to the deadly illness. During this period which has taken its toll on the mental health of many, local support services are offering spaces online where the community can help each other cope.

National Alliance on Mental Illness Stanislaus is typically busy hosting in-person workshops, high school classroom visits and other peer groups which focus on mental health throughout the year, but COVID-19 forced the organization to cancel its events and offer online options instead. 

“It’s really kind of put the kibosh on everything,” Darlene Thomas of NAMI Stanislaus said. 

NAMI Stanislaus surprisingly has not experienced an uptick in community members reaching out for help with their mental health during the pandemic, Thomas added; instead, the organization has actually noticed a decrease in phone calls. She believes this is because most people are laying low and are secluded, which she described as “not good.” 

Calls typically range from those needing help themselves to their loved ones searching for a solution. With social distancing measures in place amid a global pandemic, checking in on those who may be suffering is a lot harder than it was before. 

“This is something that’s never happened before...people have lost their jobs or now they're working from home and don’t have the freedom that they did,” Thomas said, “I can see where it would cause a lot of stress. It’s the unknown and your whole life changes.”

Pre-pandemic, NAMI Stanislaus offered several ways for teens and adults alike to learn or share about their mental health. Their program Ending the Silence is offered to students, school staff and families, with an aim to dissolve the stigma surrounding mental health. Presentations of Ending the Silence via Zoom can now be scheduled by contacting Patti Romo at 209-663-0765 or

NAMI Stanislaus’ Family-to-Family program is a free, eight-week session for family, friends and significant others of those with mental health conditions. Participants increase their understanding and advocacy skills in this program while maintaining their own well-being. Classes will be held via Zoom with dates to be announced, and those interested in more information can contact Thomas at 209-656-8855. 

The NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group Program is also free and confidential, with Zoom meetings held the second and fourth Mondays of each month as well as the first and third Saturdays. For the Zoom link and times, visit

In addition to options for those seeking help with mental health, registration is now open for a new peer support group especially for children, teens, young adults and their caregivers who have lost a family member to COVID-19.

Jessica’s House is offering an all-new peer support group that has been developed especially for youth and their caregivers who have lost a family member to COVID-19. The COVID-19 Loss peer support group begins Oct. 1 and will meet every other week via Zoom. The peer support group is open to residents of Stanislaus and Merced counties and there is no charge to participate. To join the group, call 209-250-5395.

“A death by COVID-19 can be complicated,” said Erin Nelson, executive director of Jessica’s House. “The natural grief processes can be compromised in cases where safety guidelines or other circumstances have prevented family members from physically saying goodbye to their loved one.” 

Nelson added another difficulty may arise if a person has been precluded from attending a loved one’s memorial service or if circumstances resulted in no ceremony being held.

“Not attending or having a ceremony can make it tough to heal in community. These are some of the factors that make COVID-19 bereavement challenging. However, support with others who understand this unique loss can help.”

The new COVID-19 Loss peer support group is among seven groups offered by Jessica’s House. Every other week groups are for Parent Loss, Sibling Loss, Hope After Suicide and Hope After Homicide. Monthly groups are Grandparent Loss and HeartStrings, a group for stillbirth and pregnancy loss. Peer support groups provide families with moments of connection, expression through art and play, and opportunities to share and practice coping skills. 

For more information, visit