Parents Lifeline of Eastern Ontario (PLEO) offers help to parents whose children have mental health challenges

·4 min read

Pembroke – Mental health challenges have affected many families in Renfrew County and at Renfrew County council recently, Bonnie Schryer, family peer support with Parents Lifeline of Eastern Ontario (PLEO), highlighted the services available to families throughout Renfrew County through an organization which was created for parents by parents.

“We are parents with lived experience,” she said. “Many of us also have backgrounds in social fields.”

PLEO is a non-profit family peer support organization for parents of children up to the age of 25 who are facing mental health challenges. After dealing with their own challenges, these parents offer support to others in the same circumstances through a parents’ helpline, support groups and mobile one-on-one support.

To work for PLEO there must be lived experience in supporting a child with their journey with mental health and getting them help, she said.

The organization was created by a parent in the CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) mental health waiting room, she said. One parent was upset and the other parent reached out to say, “I get it.” That parent gave their phone number and said they were available to lend a listening ear.

This began the model which has expanded now to many parents involved in helpingother parents, she said.

“We are the people who meet parents on their journey to help them get connected to the support they need,” Ms. Schryer said.

The oldest service is the helpline, she said. Any parent can call who needs help.

“Today parents can still call and talk to a peer parent,” she said.

Calls are answered during the week and when calls are not being answered new research is being done, she said.

Another program is the parent support groups which are virtual right now. In the fall they will be in person, she said.

“Everybody in this room has a loved one with a mental health issue,” Ms. Schryer said. “A lot of time the younger families with younger kids don’t tell their elderly parents or grandparents because they are ashamed.

“Please know it affects a lot of families in Renfrew County, so we have support groups,” she said.

There is a program called Smart Recovery which deals with addiction, she noted. Addictive behaviour affects families and this includes any addictive behaviour.

“A lot of kids are gaming and they are gaming all night,” she said.

While they don’t give advice, they can refer people to find help or share their own experience.

“I’m thankful for our local services,” Ms. Schryer said. “You have no idea how important they are.”

There is also a one-on-one mobile service as well, which she was hired for. It is an individual support program.

“This is here in Renfrew County and many parents don’t know,” she said.

“We meet with a parent who is going through a struggle,” she said.

Parents can refer themselves or be referred from a professional. A navigator will call them and do an intake to see what the issue is.

“Some parents are so stuck and they are overwhelmed,” Ms. Schryer said. “We can’t even think to find a website, to find a right site to get connected.”

Sitting in a public safe place where they can find some privacy, they discuss the challenges and find where the issues started and look at what supports are available.

“We help the parent help their child,” she said.

“Some parents just need someone who gets it,” she said. “They are very lonely. They don’t have family around. They don’t have a support system.”

“Some parents just need someone to meet them where they are at and realize peer parents can understand,” she said. “It can be scary not knowing what will happen.

“One of the things I have learned is radical acceptance,” she said. “That the dreams I had are not necessarily going to happen.”

Local Resident

In her introduction, Warden Debbie Robinson noted Ms. Schryer is a local resident living on a farm property which has been in their family since the 1850s. She worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Pembroke and raised four children and now has six grandchildren.

“She always thought they could handle whatever life gave them, however within the past five years she found herself in some very challenging circumstances with her adult children,” she said.

Reaching out to the Robbie Dean Centre, she was encouraged to reach out to PLEO. In 2018 PLEO received a grant to expand to Renfrew County and Ms. Schryer was hired to support parents with children up to the age of 25 who are having some mental health issues.

When COVID hit, in-person meetings went virtual which enabled her to reach more families in Ontario, Warden Robinson said.

“The compassion and passion you bring to what you do is evident all the time,” she noted.

The organization has been around for 20 years.

For more information about the services available, visit

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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