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‘Loneliness Epidemic’ Is Crushing Parents

Seattle-area groups push back with expanded support

Kristin Leong headshot
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Published on: May 16, 2024

Parents gather on a couch during a parent support group to combat loneliness epidemic
Photo:
Newborn PEPS Group meeting in a participant’s Bellevue home. Photo: Happy Film Company

Families at risk

Loneliness has escalated into a public health crisis and new parents are especially vulnerable.

“Connection is supposed to be simple and built into our lives. It should get the same priority as healthy food and exercise, because it’s just as important for our well-being. Unfortunately, the same way the odds have been stacked against us with food and exercise, social connection has gotten hard,” reflects Dana Guy, the executive director of PEPS. Rooted by a mission focused on creating connections, PEPS has served as a stronghold against isolation for families in the Puget Sound region since its inception in 1983.

PEPS’s initiatives have been designed to counter feelings of loneliness that many new parents experience. This purpose has grown increasingly vital as community spaces for families seem to be left behind by technological advancements focused on reach, efficiency and convenience more than human relationships.

Parents and babies gather in PEPS group in Seattle home
Newborn PEPS Group in a participant’s Southeast Seattle home. Photo: Terri Price Photography

Just last month, in April of 2024, a national survey of over 200 parents released by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that nearly 70 percent of parents reported that they felt the demands of parenthood sometimes or frequently feel isolating and lonely. Last year, in May of 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an Advisory declaring the United States to be in “an epidemic of loneliness,” noting that this state of disconnect not only deteriorates mental health but is linked to a 60 percent increase in premature deaths among Americans.

PEPS Groups create a place where parents can find solace in shared experiences. These gatherings can reduce feelings of judgment and solitude that can come with raising young children, while offering socializing, humor and mutual support to both parents and kids.

In research reviewed by PEPS, the tangible benefits of such community connections are clear. One study showed that mothers with consistent social support are half as likely to suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Results like this underscore that nurturing communities are crucial not just for parents’ well-being, but for the healthy development for families as a whole.

To reach diverse parents, offer diverse supports

In recent years, PEPS has made an intentional shift towards embedding equity into the organization’s core practices. Starting with a community assessment in 2018, PEPS engaged with parents, group leaders and partner organizations to understand barriers such as language limitations, inaccessibility of group locations and prohibitive program fees that were standing in the way of more diverse groups of parents being part of PEPS programming.

Newborn PEPS Group at a West Seattle park. Photo: Happy Film Company

Based on these findings, PEPS implemented several significant changes, including the introduction of a flexible pricing model, translation of curriculum into Spanish, and broadening of group formats and locations to include community sites, virtual engagements and traditional home meetings.

PEPS’s introduction of affinity groups further expanded on their inclusivity efforts, providing personalized community spaces for historically marginalized parents such as LGBTQ caregivers and single parents. These shifts aimed to not only broaden PEPS’s accessibility, but also to ensure that the diversity of Puget Sound families is reflected by PEPS’s community — from group participants to staff composition.

An impactful collaboration

PEPS’s collaboration with Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) is another part of the organization’s commitment to addressing the unique needs of diverse families.

FOCS offers free virtual and in-person parent groups that bring together families with race, culture, ethnic identity and experiences in common. Because this intentional design, FOCS groups are able to offer a nurturing environment to share parenting strategies while exploring topics such as identity and inclusivity.

All FOCS groups are facilitated by trained parents with lived experiences that are relevant to the group. Examples of FOCS groups include Black Moms, Queer and Trans Families, Parents of Neurodivergent Children and Single Parents. 

Photo: courtesy FOCS

PEPS amplifies the resources FOCS offers by sharing about FOCS and their groups to new and expectant PEPS parents.

PEPS’s staff has also had the opportunity to expand their cultural competency through FOCS-led workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion. This collaborative effort aims to deepen the impact of both programs, creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all families involved.

PEPS is looking ahead … to the teen years

As PEPS looks to the future, the organization hopes to continue to expand their scope to meet the evolving needs of families across the Greater Seattle area. One big area of expansion is the development of a program for Parents of Adolescents and Teens (PAT) to address the unique challenges faced by families with kids in middle and high school. This new initiative hopes to fill a crucial gap, providing targeted support and community for parents during the (occasionally!) turbulent teenage years.

Learn more and connect

  • To learn more about PEPS or to join a PEPS Group, visit the PEPS website.
  • To learn more about Families of Color Seattle or to join a FOCS Group, visit the FOCS website.
  • For free and confidential help with finding support services that are right for you or your family, Washington 211 is a community resource that connects people to services across Washington state. Dial 211 or text 211WAOD to 898211.
  • If you’re in crisis or struggling with loneliness or mental health challenges in Washington state, Crisis Connections can help. They cover King County and surrounding areas; offering programs focused on serving the emotional and physical needs of people across the state. Call 206-461-3222 or 866-4-CRISIS.
  • If you’re in crisis, call or text 988 to connect with Crisis Lifelife (24/7), or call 911.

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