BOSTON (CBS) – A partnership between several New England groups aims to make the ripple effects of mental illness a little easier to handle within families.

The Sibling Support Program, a group developed by Emily Rubin of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at University of Massachusetts Medical School, is hosted by Cambridge Health Alliance. At their Cambridge public hospital, they offer the group to families of children hospitalized for psychiatric care.

The program changed the lives of Marcie Cummings and her mother Rebecca. The Pelham, New Hampshire, family often makes the drive to Boston when Marcie’s older sister is receiving mental health treatment, but they added the Wednesday night support group to their schedule too.

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“That was the start of a new relationship, a very close relationship where we bonded in our sadness and had to reinvent things,” Rebecca Cummings told WBZ-TV.

Rebecca said when Marcie’s sister first began treatment, she felt isolated in a lot of ways and didn’t always have the energy to come home and be as nurturing to Marcie as she would have liked.

Marcie and Rebecca Cummings. (WBZ-TV)

Marcie and Rebecca Cummings. (WBZ-TV)

“You would go to school and friends would be like ‘yeah me and my sibling were fighting over the last donut,’” said Marcie. “It would be hard to say, ‘well my sibling is in the hospital.”

“Parents are doing the best job they can,” said Rubin. “But usually in these families, there’s so much chaos and drama around the child with mental health issues, that the siblings’ voices really don’t get heard and their needs don’t get met.”

When families arrive for group meetings, parents meet in one room and siblings meet in another. Each group is led by a parent-mentor or a staff-member with a goal of decreasing trauma and increasing resiliency.

Rubin says often times when a child returns home from the hospital, there is a “honeymoon” period where the family functions well. But when the normal stresses of everyday life creep back in, it’s not uncommon for the sibling of the child who was hospitalized to meltdown.

“One of the hopes with this program is we’re really helping to interrupt that pattern,” said Rubin. “We want to give families language to talk about what’s happening.”

The group is expanding to Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston. For more information on Emily Rubin, visit the Massachusetts Sibling Support Network website and for specifics on the program visit UMass Medical School online.

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