Every parent wishes they could read minds, but a Wilton advocate and mom is offering perhaps the next best thing.

Vanessa Elias, a long-time mental health advocate and mother of three, officially began Thrive with a Guide, a parent coaching LLC, with the launch of her website last week.

A newly certified parent coach and self-called “stigma crusher,” Elias crafted this business as a resource for parents seeking a guide for connecting with their children, with a specific interest in supporting parents navigating their child’s mental illness or treatment.

“The biggest impact on a child’s wellness is the family environment, and the parents have the biggest power,” she said. “Oftentimes as parents we feel completely powerless, but ultimately we are the ones that can make the biggest difference in our child’s life.”

Not a ‘Perfect Mom’

Elias is offering herself not as a “perfect mom,” but as someone who knows the critical importance of supporting mental health and family, and as someone who has been there herself. A mom of three, Elias remembers the feeling of watching her own child’s battle with mental illness, feeling “completely lost” while struggling with her own feelings of helplessness, responsibility and sorrow.

“I know how painful it is. I know how isolating it is,” she said. “I’ve been there, and I understand.”

When seeking help for her eldest daughter, Elias recalled feeling so overwhelmed by the lack of information available. ‘What’s in-patient? What’s outpatient? What’s residential?’ she thought. ‘Who do I call?’

“It’s a world that nobody talks about and you don’t know about until you need to be in there,” she said. “You don’t even know the people that you need to call.”

Making the decisions of what to do for her child, she remembers, was also extremely difficult. But to Elias, it was also empowering.

“I remember walking up my road doubled over crying and thinking, I’m going to cry now but I need to use this experience to help someone else one day,” she said. “[That thought] gave me strength, it helped me get through it, because I knew that I could help someone else.”

Elias’s work began with Wilton Youth Council, where she was the president from 2015 to 2019. As part of her work there she brought visibility to mental health in Wilton, recruiting Dr. Suniya S. Luthar to survey the mental health, drug and alcohol use, and prosocial behaviors of Wilton High School students in 2017.

In addition to Wilton Youth Council, Elias became a facilitator at National Alliance on Mental Illness Child and Adolescent Network (NAMI-CAN) and a leader of a support group in 2015.

Seeking to do more, she considered returning to school for social work, but soon realized that diagnosing patients wasn’t for her. In her volunteering, however, she began to see a new niche in the community that wasn’t being filled.

In Wilton Youth Council’s parent councils and the support group, she began to talk informally with parents 1-on-1 for hours a week. Dedicating hours a week to these conversations, it was soon evident that there was a demand for personalized parent support and counseling, and that she could be the one to fill it.

“I hear so many times ‘I just gotta get through this,’” she said. “We miss, it’s not about just getting through, it’s getting through in a way that is healthy. That matters.”

The Thrive with a Guide website has been in the works since 2019, and officially launched after Elias finished her certification through the Center for the Challenging Child in Minnesota. Her training encompassed not only supporting parents to help their child navigate mental illness, but also topics such as adoption, foster care, trauma and attachment issues.

Her goal in coaching is to help support parents traversing often un-talked about and ‘taboo’ struggles children and families face, and let them know they are not helpless.

“It’s a parallel process, both the parent needs to make changes as well as the children,” she said. “I’m someone that understands the parent’s situation, the frustrations, the challenges they face and can guide them to … make things better.”

Though the sessions will be offered through Zoom, allowing her to serve anyone who needs it, Elias said starting her business in Wilton is particularly meaningful to her. Having moved around many different places internationally as an adult, Elias said there is a reason Wilton, where she has lived for seven years, has become her and her business’ home.

“I really feel like this is where all my experiences came together and it’s really my home, it’s my community, it’s where I’ve gotten the encouragement and support and the feedback that what I was doing was meaningful,” she said. “This is where also, our family got better.”

In addition to offering one-on-one coaching, Elias also has a blog where she covers mental health concerns and parenting tips, which she hopes will help increase her reach.

“I can only reach so many people one-on-one as a client,” she said. “But [I] might be able to write something and have it resonate with someone and [make] a difference, right there.”

As far as her philosophy, and advice to families, she said that too much is centered around the mind, what people choose to do, and not the heart.

“We think things are done on purpose and willfully and it is will against will, mind against mind and so much rational focus, but really so much could be understood and improved and by tuning into the heart.” she said. “The heart is more powerful than anything.”

In the future, Elias said she hopes to help more people get the help they need, in whatever form that may take.

“The more people I can help the better. Whatever form that is, if it’s one-on-one coaching, writing, articles, books, or speaking, [making] a positive impact is really, really important to me,” she said. “People have the power to get there, just need a little guidance on the way.”

Elias can be reached through the Thrive with a Guide website