04/20/2017

Family’s struggle with mental illness leads to development of program to counsel other families

Johnny’s Bridges to Hope’s social worker offers 10 warning signs of depression

It was around the age of four that Ann Lytle noticed her son Johnny wasn’t like the other kids.

He wanted to be alone all the time, even at his own birthday party. Family doctors told Lytle that it was a phase and he would outgrow it. This “phase” continued throughout Johnny’s childhood into high school and even into college. Teer Mitchell, LMSW, Johnny's Bridges to Hope

Johnny told his mother he wasn’t like the other people at his college and he felt different. Lytle could no longer watch her son suffer and the family knew Johnny needed help. He was taken out of school and, after many visits with specialists, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

It was a difficult struggle for the Lytles. Finding the right therapist and support group felt like navigating an impossible maze, Lytle says. The family also needed help understanding Johnny’s condition.

Because of their challenging journey, Ann Lytle says she wanted to “bridge” the gap in care and give families the help they needed to give families “hope.” Through the Lytle’s generosity and partnership with St. Joseph’s/Candler, Johnny’s Bridges to Hope was created.

The program is named in honor of Johnny, who is now doing well thanks to treatment and support of his family and loved ones.

“This program is a good support service for anybody dealing with a loved one with a mental illness,” says Teer Mitchell, LMSW, St. Joseph’s/Candler mental health family navigator. “A lot of people need a safe place to vent their frustrations. Managing a loved one with a mental illness can be rough and taxing on you. Parents and family members miss work sometimes. They are tired all the time. It’s financially taxing, and sometimes it just runs you around in circles if you don’t know where to seek help.”

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect your mood, thinking and behavior often due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, Mitchell says. Examples of mental illnesses include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and personality disorders.

One in four people in the world will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization. Every year in the United States, about 42.5 million adults suffer from a mental illness.

“Mental illness affects all races, ethnicities and income levels. A lot of times people don’t even realize you can be fine one day, but wake up the next day presenting symptoms associated with a mental illness,” Mitchell says. “Many cases are undiagnosed or ignored because of the stigma associated with mental illnesses. A lot of parents don’t want to admit there is something wrong with their son or daughter and ignore all the warning signs until it’s too late.”

How do I know if my loved one needs help?

If you are concerned a family member is experiencing depression or some other form of mental illness, Mitchell advises families to pay attention to one’s behavior and watch for the warning signs:

  • Change in routine
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Disheveled appearance or poor hygiene
  • Won’t make eye contact and looks down a lot
  • No longer showing interest in previous hobbies or activities
  • They sleep all the time
  • They won’t talk to anyone
  • They won’t eat
  • Cutting or other self-injurious behaviors
  • Talks of ending their life or suicide attempts

“If you sense there is a problem, there probably really is a problem and you should consult someone,” Mitchell says. “Follow your first impression and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Early intervention may save lives.”

How Johnny’s Bridges to Hope can help

Working as the social worker for Johnny’s Bridges to Hope, Mitchell is available to counsel families who have loved ones suffering from a mental illness. The main objectives of the program are:

  • Improve the quality of life for the patient and family member by helping families understand the illness
  • Empower families with necessary resources to be more helpful to the patient
  • Teach skills to better address their family member’s challenging and disruptive behavior
  • Teach caregivers to reduce stress and to take care of themselves while improving parent coping skills and support

To help family members of the mentally ill, Mitchell offers one-on-one and family counseling sessions and hosts a monthly Johnny’s Bridges to Hope support group. Services are free and confidential.

One-on-one and family counseling benefits:

  • One-on-one family counseling in a convenient location
  • Providing tips on how to effectively deal with a mentally-ill family member
  • Maximizing the family’s support system through community resources
  • Facilitating honest communication about the illness and their emotions
  • Addressing common questions and concerns

The monthly family support group meets the last Wednesday of the month from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion. Benefits include:

  • Monthly support group meetings once a month in the LCRP second floor conference room
  • Led by a licensed master social worker
  • Allows families to feel less alone and share their feelings

For more information about this program or to speak with a social worker, call 912-819-8498.

If you need immediate help, call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225 to talk to a licensed clinician 24/7. If you are worried your love one is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000