The nonprofit New Ann Arbor offers a virtual mental health program for young adults

After their son Garrett died of suicide in 2017 at the age of 23, Ann Arbor residents Julie and Scott Halpert felt a calling to do what they called “honors his kindness.” One day, while visiting his grave, the vision of a residential healing center – located in nature, with gardens and hiking trails – occurred to him.

“When we started we were told, ‘You have to start helping people right away,'” recalls Julie Halpert. “And that’s when we came up with the idea for wellness programs.”
Julie Halpert.
Since the conception of the original plan for her nonprofit organization Garrett’s room, the couple has forged a partnership with the University of Michigan Eisenberg Family Depression Center, and hired a board and staff of clinicians and mental health professionals from across the community. While a physical center is still a few years away from construction, the nonprofit began offering a range of virtual programs in April.

“We found that there is a huge gap in caring for young adults who are struggling,” says Julie Halpert.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States today.

“It was really awful, but obviously the pandemic made it worse because young adults are more isolated,” says Julie Halpert.

Board members Jamie Abelson, a licensed clinician with a master’s degree in social work; and Lindsay Bornheimer, a PhD in social worker and lecturer at the University of Michigan, have helped develop programs that offer various aspects of holistic support.

“Members of our program committee tried to think, ‘What can we do to help a young person who was in the hospital? How can we help them feel more appropriate?'” Abelson recalls. She notes that her approach took a year to develop. “We wanted to make sure we did it right because you don’t take risks with this population.”

On Mondays, a self-help group led by their peers offers space for young adults who are in need. On Wednesdays “Mood and Movement” meets, which uses yoga and dance techniques to integrate emotions and the physical body. The week ends with the opportunity to socialize and have fun. In addition to specialized group leaders, each session is monitored by a registered clinician.

10 participants have already benefited since April. While the sessions are virtual for now due to the pandemic, there is hope of meeting face-to-face later. Until then, the virtual groups brought unexpected benefits. For some attendees, the format makes it more convenient to attend and, for those who may be shy, more welcoming. In order to make the supervision as accessible as possible, the meetings are free and take place in the evening depending on the work schedule.

The holistic program that Garrett’s Space offers is not intended to replace treatment – like regular visits to a psychiatrist – but to complement it.

“This time [in participants’ lives] is a transition from high school to college and into the real world. Young adults often do not have the support of their peers and often do not live with their parents. They can feel quite alone, “says Julie Halpert.” We felt that there is nothing in our community and in many communities for young adults who need visits to their therapist more than once or twice a week, but they do are not actively suicidal and do not warrant admission to the emergency room. “

“Adding a layer of support, positivity, and tools for people to engage with can sometimes be more helpful than just medication or just traditional therapy,” says Bornheimer, whose research is in suicide prevention. “It is intended as a supplement. In our world of behavior therapy, this is often lacking. Often times, things that are labeled as wellness are not part of the picture. We hope that this will be more accessible. “

In addition to programs for young adults, Garrett’s Space intends to offer training to equip family and community members with the skills to help those in need. The “Your Support Team” model, which is currently in the research phase, will allow participants to nominate people on their social network to be trained in support.

“Always in the back of your mind is the question [of] whether that would have helped our son, “says Scott Halpert.” And so we think about our programming. Is this the kind of thing – creating additional connections and support – that would have helped Garrett? And will it help other young adults? “
Scott Halpert.
“We think of this as rehab and reset for mental health problems,” says Julie Halpert. “We want to reach young adults and show them that they are not alone. And we also want them to develop healthy coping strategies in order to live in an increasingly complicated and restless world.”

On September 3rd and 4th, Garrett’s Space will host a 24-hour virtual fundraiser to raise funds for its wellness program and residential center. For information on the event, which will be attended by CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod, Senator Debbie Stabenow and Broadway artists, please visit www.garrettsspace.org.

The Garrett’s Space program is free and open to young adults aged 18-28 in need. visit Garrett’s Space website to learn more. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

Jeanne Hodesh is a freelance writer based out of Ann Arbor covering small business, food, and culture. She has an MFA from Hunter College. Her essays and articles have appeared in Lenny Letter, The Hairpin, and Time Out New York, among others.

All photos by Doug Coombe.

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