GROTON -- Sitting in a darkened auditorium watching a home movie of a smiling, happy little boy playing in the backyard -- John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" playing sweetly in the background -- was a heart-wrenching experience.
The moving tribute to Deb and Steve Boczenowski's son Jeffrey is part of the beginning of the new TADS video, "Removing Obstacles to Help and Treatment."
TADS, or Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions, was founded by the Boczenowskis two years ago, after Jeffrey committed suicide at the age of 21.
The couple founded the nonprofit organization in an effort to de-stigmatize mental illness, facilitate open discussion about it, and help families connect to the mental-health services they need.
The Oct. 17 first public showing of "Removing Obstacles to Help and Treatment" was held at the Richardson-Mees Performing Arts Center at Lawrence Academy.
The movie was videotaped by Nashoba Valley Technical High School students and directed by their instructor, Eric Stevenson, with clinical psychologist Steve Liljegren as creative director. It features the Boczenowskis, as well as counselors and clinicians, sharing their experiences and thoughts regarding the treatment of childhood anxiety or depression.
The interviews with the Boczenowskis are deeply personal. They share virtually every move they made as parents, from their interactions with and responses to their son, to their outlooks on life, to their naïveté when it came to knowing how to best help their struggling adult child.
The mental-health professionals in the film discuss the signs of depression and anxiety: What to do if you sense that "something is just not quite right" with your child, how to communicate with your child, what could happen if depression and anxiety go untreated, the signs of suicidal tendencies, and the importance of the replacement of destructive coping mechanisms with healthy alternatives.
Each case is different, say the clinicians, and one of the most important first steps is to find the counselor, psychologist and/or psychiatrist that is the best fit for your child.
That is where MSSP INTERFACE comes in. A program of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology Freedman Center, it is a mental-health referral service designed to support children and adults up to the age of 24.
TADS has contracted with the community resource to connect people with the telephone numbers of mental-health professionals with whom they can discuss the specifics of their mental-health concerns. Each referral meets the location, insurance and specialty needs of the caller. It is not a crisis hotline.
MSPP INTERFACE is available for Groton, Dunstable, Harvard, Westford and Concord residents and will soon be available in Littleton. It becomes available in Ayer and Shirley on Nov. 1.
The INTERFACE Helpline, 888-244-6843, ext. 1411 , is available to participating communities Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information on the program can be found at www.msppinterface.org.
The panel discussion
After the video, a panel made up of the Boczenowskis, mental-health counselors Dan Simone and Alice Lenhart, Groton-Dunstable Regional High School guidance counselor Mark Hennelly, and Liljegren, took questions from the audience.
Boczenowski started things off by stating what an important night it was for the couple. He also thanked Ayer-Shirley Regional School District guidance counselor Betsy Dolan, who helped to facilitate the discussion, for her support.
Dolan, who lives in Groton, is the president of the Groton-Dunstable Alliance for Youth (GDAY) and serves on the TADS board.
"Deb and I feel strongly about this issue and will continue to work on it as long as the (TADS) board keeps working with us," said Boczenowski.
Some people here may be suffering from quiet panic, with a child who is suffering. We hope you can relax and walk out of here a little bit relieved tonight, and have an idea of how to continue working with your child."
Boczenowski said the Groton-Dunstable TADS contract with MSPP INTERFACE "has been glowingly successful, and we hope that after two years it will be picked up by public funds." It is currently funded thanks to private donations.
He introduced Nashoba Valley Technical High School Assistant Superintendent Denise O'Laughlin and Stevenson and thanked the student videographers for being supportive during the taping of the movie.
The whole project was really a net positive for us," he said, adding that Liljegren was "the genius behind it. "
Among the questions from the audience was one about the amount of time it generally takes to treat depression. Lenhart responded that it takes about a year to establish a treatment in terms of education and other therapies. "After a year, there may be some sort of confidence about what works to reduce symptoms," she said.
Another question was about the difference between treating anxiety through a psychiatrist versus a psychologist.
Virtually all psychiatrists don't spend much time talking," responded Simone. "They mainly prescribe medication, and psychologists don't." He said that psychiatrists might oversee what goes on, but that appointments with them are generally fewer and shorter.
So who makes the decision about which one is the right one for the child?" the questioner asked.
There are many different types of mental-health professionals with different histories and philosophies, said Simone, "but at the end of the day, it is who you feel comfortable talking with."
Typically the place to start is with a counselor," added Liljegren.
One of the greatest obstacles to healing is the taboo around mental illness," said another audience member. "How can we support the social network to be more helpful?"
Hennelly replied that when he was in high school, "I never got the feeling if I missed a few assignments or the teacher had a bad day that they really wanted to go out of their way to help me.
The great thing is that, while there is still a long way to go, that is changing. Kids feel a lot more comfortable and it is extremely more acceptable for kids to go down to the school guidance counselor or for a friend concerned about another to go to the counselor."
He said that, of all the different initiatives he had seen over the 18 years he has been at Groton-Dunstable, very few have been as helpful as MSPP INTERFACE.
I used it just today," he said. "It provides an amazing resource."
Whereas he used to refer parents to therapists who may not have taken their insurance, or were not available for months, he now has a resource that provides families with rapid access to treatment.
I can't tell you how grateful I am to the Boczenowskis and Project INTERFACE," he said.
Boczenowski said TADS has a contract with MSPP INTERFACE through December 2013, and is in discussions with the Groton Board of Health, selectmen and the school district about the possibility of public funding.
The second showing of "Removing Obstacles to Help and Treatment," followed by another panel discussion, will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School, 1 Hospital Road in Shirley.