No Letting Go with Guest Randi Silverman Part 1

This week we are bringing you part one of a special two-part interview. The Mental Health Mamas are joined by guest Randi Silverman. Randi is an award-winning screenwriter and producer of the feature film, No Letting Go, the Co-Founder of the Youth Mental Health Project and a fellow Mental Health Mama. Listen in as Tina, Serena and Randi talk about parenting children with mental health struggles, how to know when to seek help and how No Letting Go got its name.

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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Tina: This episode will be part one of a two part interview with our guest. We hope that you will tune in next week for the second part!

Serena: Today we are excited to bring you a very special guest. Randi Silverman is the co-Founder of The Youth Mental Health Project and an award-winning screenwriter and producer of the feature film, NO LETTING GO. She uses her experience as a mother of a child with mental health struggles to depict a family’s true struggles with mental illness. As a national public speaker and presenter on the topic of children’s mental health, Randi sparks meaningful conversations that provide insight into the challenges faced by families with a loved one who struggles with mental illness. As the Founder of The Youth Mental Health Project, Randi’s work creates opportunities for open community dialogue and increased awareness and education about children’s mental health. Welcome Randi!

Randi: Well thank you so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure to be here.

Tina: We are honored. So, we Mental Health Mamas totally normalize mental health as just a part of our whole selves. Part of our journey is about discovery. When my family embarked on this journey, a long time ago, we knew NOTHING about mental health. Since then, I’ve learned so very much and I’m curious. How much did you feel like you knew about mental health at the outset of your child’s struggles? And what have you learned?

Randi: Oh my goodness. Well that’s, you know, such a massive topic, right? I think it’s exactly why we do, and when I say we, you know those of us who are Mental Health Mamas, right? And I’m thrilled and honored to be part of that. Is because we didn’t know. And I say all the time, you can’t get help for a problem you don’t know exists. So when my children were little and my son particularly, I have three children but my middle son started exhibiting what I now know were very clear signs of anxiety and depression and a mood disorder. I didn’t know kids could struggle with those things. You know, I thought that was, you know, if you’re from a nice family, in a loving home and you know, why on earth would your child, what would your young child have to be depressed about for no reason? And so all of his “symptoms” which were at the time behaviors, right, that he was not able to control because he was anxious or depressed, I attributed to bad parenting. And everyone around me attributed to bad parenting, right? That I must be doing something wrong because I cannot teach my child how to behave properly in the world. And it’s that lack of knowledge and that self-blame and shame. And it’s not just that we blame ourselves. We know the world’s judging us, right? And that’s our culture of parenting, our parenting culture is we must teach our children how to behave and if we can’t we are doing something wrong. So how do you get help for this “mental health problem” when you don’t think it’s a mental health problem. You think it’s a behavioral problem caused by bad parenting. Yeah, right. That lack of knowledge kept us in the dark and isolated for years. Now, as to what I have learned I am sure you believe, as I believe, that I probably have self-taught myself multiple doctorates by now. You know? I mean because like with any other illness, when your child struggles with a life-threatening illness, you dive into research. I don’t care if it’s cancer or, you know, asthma or diabetes. You do your best to learn all there is and I am, I like to say I’m a lawyer in recovery. So my research brain, all that I learned in lawyer researching, I just wanted to soak it all up and understand what was happening. And so I know so much more now and I always think, what do I wish I had known way back? And my son is now 24. He was diagnosed with anxiety and depression at 8. He was suicidal by the time he was 9. He was hospitalized by the time he was 11 and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So it’s been a very long journey. And every day I continue to learn more, but there’s so much more that needs to be public knowledge. And so all the work that I do, particularly with The Youth Mental Health Project, my goal is to educate people so that other families will know what I didn’t know to make their journey a little bit easier. And that’s what you do with the Mental Health Mamas, right? How can we reach out? How can we reach out and teach people the basic things? You can’t get help for a mental health problem or struggle or challenge or illness if you don’t know that’s something that could even apply to you, right? You have to know that part first. That we all have mental health. That children have mental health and sometimes it’s bad and sometimes it’s good, right? And how do we teach the world such a basic concept that literally people do not know that. Something that basic.

Tina: Yeah. It is definitely something we, you know, if you break your arm, for example, you wouldn’t not go to the doctor. You would expect that doctor to help you with knowing what you need to do when you go and seek the right care. Yeah, for sure.

Randi: Yeah. I mean, that’s what we talk about all the time, am I right? That we understand, but we’ve learned through time. I mean, hundreds of years ago parents didn’t know, they didn’t know about washing hands, right? And we were taught through years of, right. Oh, germs come through hands and so let’s wash hands. Or how do we keep our children healthy? We know so much more now about keeping our children healthy and watching out for symptoms of illness when it comes to, you know, physical medical conditions than we did 200 years ago. But we are still in the dark ages when it comes to mental health. We still question. Ooh, is this a problem I should seek help for? I’m not really sure. People ask me all the time, how do I know that this isn’t just a stage? How do I know this isn’t just my child being a difficult teenager? You know. And it’s not easy but there are ways you can learn about it. Knowledge is power. You can teach yourself. There are things you can learn to look out for but you can’t learn those if you still think that’s just not even something that applies to you.

Serena: So Randi, I wonder. Given that your focus is on education and that, certainly I’ve heard that a lot from families. How do I know? How do I know when this is more than a teenager or a child going through a phase? And I know it’s a huge topic, but are there maybe, you know, just a handful of… Are there a few tips you might give us?

Randi: I will. I will give some tips because it is the most important question. And right now, first I’m going to tell you at The Youth Mental Health Project, our mission is to educate, empower and support families to really understand how to care for the mental health of our young people. And we have, if I do say so myself, some really wonderful free downloadable guides and booklets and factsheets. And one of them is called, Mental Health Questions Parents Frequently Ask or something like that. I might be saying it wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s the way it is. And I can give you the link and people can download it free. And in this booklet, it will give you a much bigger explanation of what I’m going to tell you next briefly. Which is the first concept to understand that mental health lies on a continuum. We all have it and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. When we have our babies we don’t expect them to always be perfectly physically well all the time. We assume, OK, that they’ll maybe get strep throat sometimes or ear infections or maybe, God forbid, they will get a serious illness. We know that but we don’t understand that mental health is similar in that sometimes you’re born with it and sometimes it ebbs and changes throughout your growth. And young people are particularly susceptible during their early years, right, of either building their mental health strength or wellness or becoming ill. But it’s not a black and white thing. It’s not you either have a mental illness or you do not. So that’s the first concept that’s really important to understand. And people are very confused about the difference between mental illness, mental health and mental wellness. It’s really important because you can’t look for signs and symptoms if you are thinking it’s a binary issue. Well, they don’t have a mental illness, so therefore...or I don’t want my child to have a mental illness so I’m just not gonna go there, right?

So in terms of how you can tell and again, I’ve given 6-hour workshops on this so you were right to say it’s a pretty big topic. When you’re looking at your child’s, first of all mental health is defined as a state of emotional, psychological, and social well-being that’s impacted by your thoughts, feelings and emotions. It’s a state of being just like physical health is a state of being. OK? So when you’re looking at your child’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, what you want to ask yourself is, how is my child functioning in the world? That’s the most important thing. If your child is not getting out of bed because they have a one hundred and five fever and they can’t, well you know your child is sick. If your child is not getting out of bed because their emotions are, their emotions, mental emotional behavior cannot physically get out of bed. They might not have a fever but that’s still a sign of inability to function. If they can’t play with their friends the way they used to play. If they withdraw from society. If suddenly they’re unable to manage relationships. So you look in totality their behaviors, their thoughts, their feelings, their emotions. And in any one are of their lives, how are they functioning? Either at school, at home or with friends. And if any one of those areas they’re not functioning well, that’s something to be concerned about, right? So if the first thing you ask is well, oh but my son behaves fine at school, it’s only at home that he behaves that way. Or he behaves horribly at school but he is great when he’s home. You only need to look at one area of a person’s life and that can be an indication if their functioning is impaired in any way, right?

So that’s the first thing. And then other things to look for when you’re looking at those emotions, feelings and behaviors is a pattern of intensity, frequency and duration. So, how often do things happen? How intense are they? And how long do those, like episodes last?

I’m gonna give you an example. My son once had an episode, I call it an episode. It was a rage. He was, I think, nine years old because I handed him the wrong fork. And he went ballistic. I mean, ballistic. And I promise you, there was nothing wrong with the fork, but anyway. You know.

Serena: We know!

Tina: We know!

Randi: You know. You’ve had that, right? So that episode was very intense meaning his reaction based on what had happened, it was a fork for goodness sake, was way too intense in relationship to what happened. It lasted for four hours. That’s duration. So intensity and duration. And then frequency. Those kinds of things were starting to happen more and more often. To a point where on any given day I never know if he would just lose it for no reason. To the point where I stopped going out of the house. We just stopped leaving, right?

So those are the three things when you’re looking at behaviors. And then of course that was impacting his functioning because he could barely tolerate being around other people without going into some rage over something silly and so that showed his inability to function. So I am really skipping over this whole thing as briefly as possible but it's really well laid out in this booklet I told you about. And it sounds very logical but it's also really hard when you're in the moment because you know, then you have a good week and you think, oh, Johnny’s doing so much better now and you kind of forget that the two weeks before that were hell. Ooh sorry. Is that OK?

Tina: That’s OK. That’s alright.

Randi: Yeah, if we can’t say that, right? But that’s what it is sometimes and so, you know I highly recommend two things. If you're a Mama or a Dada who is listening, right and you have to ask yourself, I'm not sure, how do I know? Then go seek some help. Help can look some research on your own. Help can look like listening to podcasts and learning and trying to figure it out yourself. Or help can be consulting with a mental health professional who understands children’s behaviors within the context of mental health. So that's the first thing. If you have to ask then do your best to figure it out. And then the second thing is that, keep a journal. I know it seems so simple.

Tina: Good idea.

Randi: And people, I’ve never, by the way, I never had time to keep a journal. But what I would do is I would write little notes in my calendar like “bad day”, you know. Or explosive or sad day, you know, whatever, so that I can at least get a general sense of patterns. And it took me a while to find patterns but I did. If you don’t write it down and you're going through life and you're working and taking care of your home and your other kids if you have them...who has time to write all this stuff down and remember? So keeping little notes even. And now there are all sorts of apps, right? There are some great tools out there now, so.

Serena: I found a few papers the other day from one of my kids when she was much younger and, yeah, it was shocking. I didn't remember it being so bad. It’s like oh, gosh. You forget sometimes.

Randi: You do. Right, you do. Which is good we forget otherwise I don’t know how you keep getting through the day as long as you have to keep putting it behind you. Anyway.

Serena: So thanks Randi for sharing all of that.

Randi: Better too much, I guess. Yeah.

Serena: Yeah, absolutely. It’s important information. So we will, we’ll provide a link to that on our website and in our show notes so that people can find all that information along with your organization. So, I wanted to shift us back to your movie. So when we introduced you, we mentioned your movie No Letting Go.

Randi: Sure.

Serena: It is currently available on Amazon Prime. And I have to say this movie is beyond amazing and I’ve watched it several times. It really resonated with both of us. For anyone out there listening who hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

Randi: Aw, thank you.

Serena: Of course. Yeah. It’s an amazing project. So it’s always interesting as we work with parents to connect not over diagnosis necessarily but instead over some of the common issues that we face. And so we are huge Brene Brown fans and in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she talks about the profiles of people who we might not want to share our shame story with or maybe be vulnerable with. So you know the ones like the one who feels shame for you, the people who wanna fix it for you, those who express sympathy but maybe not empathy, the person who tries to one-up you, people like that. So, there is a scene towards the beginning of the movie in which there’s this gathering of moms. And in this scene as one mom attempts to be a bit vulnerable with the others, all of these characters that I just mentioned, they all show up. So, tell us a little about writing that particular scene.
Randi: Oh my goodness. Well first of all, I’m a huge Brene Brown fan as well and I talk a lot, when I give talks I do credit her when I talk about the blame and shame around parenting. Because it’s a particularly huge part of our lives as parents of children who struggle with mental health problems. Writing that scene…I in the movie the son, and it is based on my true life story. I wrote all the scenes, though, with an eye toward what we all shared in common as families. So by the time I wrote the film I had been running support groups for 10 years and so I knew the common themes like the ones you were talking about. The other parents and I have experienced them all in my own life and I had, knew that they were, and it shouldn't matter what diagnosis your child had. These are common themes. And I remember thinking, how do I capture this essence of the community’s view, right, of our family and that shame and the blame. And trying to be vulnerable, trying to find how, trying to put a little bit out there to see if maybe someone else was like me. Only to find out that no one else got it and I was really alone, right. And so there’s that scene and the scene at the soccer fields. I don’t know if you remember that one. Those were the two scenes that I wrote that I really wanted to, parents, moms like you, parents like us to see the film and say, “That’s exactly what it felt like.” That’s it!

Tina: You nailed it! You nailed it. I’m saying, this is part of what was so powerful about the film is the way that parents could identify with these, you know, these, like you said, universal feelings that we all have around this. I'm thinking the ones that stuck out for me were the, “so just try this” or “everything will be better sometime” kind of attitude.

Randi: And a sticker chart. Have you tried a sticker chart?? Oh my gosh. Yeah. Because sticker chart, yeah.

Tina: Because who hasn’t?

Randi: Sticker charts help. I never thought of that! What an excellent suggestion!

Tina: Yes. And Serena, you had one other scene that really, well, again, I think it hit all of us.

Serena: I’m just going to share really quickly that I once had another parent say to me when I was describing some of my daughter’s behaviors. She said, “Well, have you tried just telling her to stop?” It’s like, oh, what a great idea!

Randi: Oh my goodness. Oh. So I had, and you sort of see this a little bit in the film, but not really. One of the first times when I realized ultimately that my son needed help through special education, which is a whole discussion in and of itself, he was in a fragile support program through the public school and it was run by a psychologist. And the psychologist had decided that because my son was the most, the sweetest boy in the world who never made any problem at school, that he was manipulating me and that it was just me and that my son didn’t have a problem, right. Even though he had had psychological testing, he had spent time in a psychiatric hospital. I mean, there was plenty of proof that my son really was struggling. This psychologist said to me, “You need to just make him go to school.” One of my son’s biggest issues was school refusal which you see in the film. “You just need to make him go to school.” And I just thought...I said to him, literally, I welcome you to come to my home and help me make my son go to school. And at one point the school did assign someone to come to the house every day, which I didn’t even know was a thing you could get in an IEP, but they did. You know, they didn’t want to pay for residential and they were determined to try to figure out what I was doing wrong. So they sent someone to my house for months, which I said fine. Great, come on in. If you can show me how to do this better, I am all ears.

Tina: Yes.

Randi: And of course they didn’t know what they were doing. It worked a couple times but then my son just would literally barricade himself in his room. You know, when your child is struggling with maintaining his or her emotions and they’re emotionally severely dysregulated, punishment and reward which are the typical things we’re used to using simply don’t work. Someone said to me, you cannot talk straight to crazy and I don’t usually like to say it like that. But I think it’s so funny. You can’t rationalize with someone who is in an irrational state. And a typical person who doesn’t know anything about mental health disorders just doesn’t know that. And so they were sending people to the house as though, you know, they could teach me how to parent better. And that’s, again, people who really didn’t understand. Even though they were licensed clinical psychologists. And no offense to psychologists, but you know, it’s an art. And some people just know more than others, you know.

Tina: Yeah. And I do think we, as parents, see so much more than others see and it’s tough for others know, in some ways I think about the protocol, right? The medical protocol to whatever and I think we were so not about the medical protocol. We defied every medical protocol you could think of, right. So it’s really, it was quite tough. I’m kind of feeling like maybe you had a window into my home because some of these things are so alike.

Randi: You know, that’s the biggest compliment to me in the entire world because when I was writing and producing the movie, to be honest with you, I’m not a filmmaker. I guess I am now technically.

Tina: You are!

Randi: Technically I guess I am. It wasn’t something in my experience and so when the opportunity came about to participate in this project and to write and produce the film, I thought, you know, even if we get a few good clips I could use for educational purposes, that will be great. I didn’t know it would really turn into a movie. But my goal was for other parents to say, “Yes! That is it! How did she know that happened in my house?” I literally get emails from people and I love reading the Amazon reviews. Love them! Some of them aren’t great, but most of them are...well, you know, because you can’t please everybody but most of them that are from families are exactly that. “How did you know this is what happened?” and it’s because what people don’t realize, and this is before the pandemic, is that one out of five kids in our country struggle with a diagnosable mental health disorder. So we’re not alone but we feel like we’re alone because no one’s out there talking about it. And so the purpose of the movie was not only to allow families like us to know, you’re not alone. Look, there’s a whole movie that describes your life. But also to be used to share with your family, your friends, your teachers. Look, you may not really understand what we’re going through but this is what we’re going through. I had one mother who told me that it saved her marriage because they were not on the same page, the father didn’t understand and then since they watched the movie, it changed their dynamics.

Tina: Wow.

Randi: And family members like grandparents who mean well but really don’t understand because they don’t, you know, see it every day. How that can really change your support system’s view if you have this story. You know, film is so powerful. Yeah, anyway. So thank you. It’s the biggest compliment that you could ever give me so thank you. That makes me very happy.

Tina: So one more thing about the movie. Tell us about the title.

Randi: So it’s so funny. We were trying to come up with a title and it was literally right when the first Frozen came out and the song Let it Go was really popular. The director of the film was a young man in his twenties. He didn’t have children. Great director and this is his first major film. I was sitting with my co-producer Carina Rush who was really the reason the film happened. She was a good friend and very supportive all along the way. We said, alright, let’s come up with a title and every time we would throw out a title she would put sticky notes up on the wall so we could see them all. There were sticky notes all over the wall with all these different titles. And Johnathan the director says, “We need to call it Let it Go!” because of the movie, the song Let it Go from Frozen. And I looked at him. My head almost exploded and I said, “Are you kidding me?! Absolutely not! There is no letting go when you’re the parent of a child like this. There’s no letting go of your fighting for them. There’s no letting go of the worry. There’s no letting go of your trying to do your best. This is not a letting go situation. No. There is no letting go.” And Carina writes it down, puts it on the wall and takes down all the other post-its off the wall.

Tina: Oh, wow.

Randi: And we all look up and we’re like, yep, that’s it. There’s No Letting Go. So that’s how we came up with the title.

Tina: That’s awesome. I have goosebumps, actually. That was...yeah, amazing. Thank you.

Randi: And you know, it’s interesting because now my son is 24. At the time of filming...let’s see...he was 16/17 years old. You know, when your child is over 18, things change and he has had some more struggles in his young adult life. And it’s a different...there is some letting go that has to happen. And I always say, look, there’s no letting go, but there is a letting go that needs to occur within the no letting go. You never stop loving your child. You never stop wanting to help and be there but there are times when they’re adults that you really have to take a step back because you don’t have control. And there’s only so much that you can do. So there is sometimes letting go within the no letting go but certainly not when they’re children. Yeah, so thanks for asking.

Tina: Yeah and we think of it a little bit like a shift, right? Like you just have to shift and do something a little bit different. We both have grown up children and it is a shift. Yeah, for sure.

Serena: Yeah. It’s a process. For sure.

Randi: It’s a process. Right. Oh this parenting thing.

Serena: We are going to pause here in our interview with Randi Silverman. We hope that you will tune in next week to hear part 2 with Randi.

Tina: So podcast friends, we are, as always grateful to all of you for listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and sharing with others.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks so much for listening!

Serena: Bye!