I.A.T.S.E. Local 26 Support Group

Local 26 understands the last 18 or so months have been hard on everyone, and we want you to know we will do everything we can to help those who need it. We’ve been able to do some pretty darn great things with the help of our friends at the Kent-Ionia Labor Council, West Michigan United Way, and several other unions in the area (unfortunately I do not remember which ones, for which I apologize and would be happy to insert their names if someone else remembers). We’ve kept the lights on, the Local going, and with the help of the International have covered per capitas for members for several quarters so no one’s membership lapses due to lack of income.

We’ve also tried to help with your mental health, because that is just as important as anything else. I’ve written several blog posts with ideas for coping strategies and resources for you to use when you need them. If you haven’t yet, please read the following:

Need Some Help Managing Your Stress and/or Depression?

Stress, Mental Health, Harassment, & Bullying Hazard Awareness Resources (continuously updated)

BTS Launches New Peer-to-Peer Chat App “Be Scene – Be Heard”


In May, I was able to take the Mental Health First Aid course through Behind the Scenes and certified as an Adult Mental Health First Aider. The class was hard, I’m not going to lie. It was a lot of work both on my own and in an online classroom setting, and some of the topics were incredibly uncomfortable. Aside from my own mental health issues (and I freely admit I have them) I’ve known, as have many of you, those who needed help but didn’t get it. Those who needed help but didn’t think they did. Those who none of us knew needed help until it was too late.

Those are extreme examples. They happen, but in a small percentage of people. The goal here is to help each other so things don’t get to that point.

Mental health issues do not automatically mean there is something wrong with you, not in the way most people see it. The stigma of admitting you need help is so ingrained in our society it infuriates me. If you broke your arm, would anyone think poorly of you if you saw a doctor to have it set properly in a cast to heal? Of course not. Why, then, do so many people look at a mental health challenge as something to be ashamed of? It’s not any more shameful than having allergies, or diabetes, or kidney stones. These things happen, and they happen to everyone regardless of social or economic status, race, religion, gender identity, living situation, or any other category by which you can classify a human being. Mental health is part of all of us, and sometimes that part of our overall health needs work. No big deal!

You know what IS a big deal? Ignoring it. Thinking if you just tough it out it’ll be fine. Feeling ashamed you need help. Keeping your problems to yourself because you think others have it worse than you so you shouldn’t complain. That last one pushes all my buttons. You are entitled to help no matter who else is struggling!

The idea here is to start small. Don’t want to jump into therapy? Great! Not everyone is ready, not everyone can afford it… There are dozens of legitimate reasons, and one of them is “I’m afraid”. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re afraid. You don’t even have to admit it to yourself. But it’s legit.

Starting small. That’s the point. That’s why I wanted to start a support group for Local 26. Not just members. Everyone. Because everyone needs someone to talk to who gets it. We all get it. We all walked out of our last theatre/arena/convention center/meeting room/whatever in March 2020 with no idea it would be this long before we started coming back. There’s still a long way to go even though work is picking up. And things are different. They’ll continue to be different probably forever.

The support group is just that. A judgement-free place where you can talk to people who know where you’re coming from. Maybe we don’t have any more solutions than you do. But maybe we do! If nothing else, it gets you out of the house for a little while and lets you see people you used to work next to regularly but haven’t talked to in well over a year.

It’s not therapy. It doesn’t diagnose any mental illness. It says, “Hey you! Yeah, you. You’re not alone. We’re all floundering. Let’s talk about it! Maybe we can figure something out that’ll help all of us.”

There are rules. First, most important, and for which there is a zero tolerance policy: WHAT IS SAID IN THE GROUP STAYS IN THE GROUP. If you talk about something someone else said without their permission, you’re out. End of story.

The rest of the rules are pretty common sense as far as support groups go:

  • We can discuss anything and some rough language (swearing/cussing) may be used. While this is not a church group, we will expect everyone to be respectful towards others, even if they have a differing opinion. No abuse, shaming, or bullying will be tolerated. This is supposed to be a safe place and we will keep it that way. NO politics or religion please. Let it not divide us.
  • Group members do not tell people outside of the group who attends the group.
  • Everyone gets a chance to talk who wants to. If necessary, someone may be told to hold their thought to allow someone else a chance to speak.
  • If you don’t feel like talking, don’t! Sometimes just listening to other people talk about having the same struggles you’re having helps.
  • Judging, criticizing, teasing or “put-downs” is not allowed. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. You can’t help what you think, but you can help what you say.
  • Group members give other group members feedback only when it is requested. If someone just wants to vent, great! Blowing off steam is one of the best ways to relieve stress and can help you see your own way clear.
  • When in the group, everyone is equal. No one is more important than anyone else because of a position they may hold at work or anywhere else. The newest referent shares equal footing with the oldest member and everyone in between.

That’s it! It’s possible there could be more later as need arises, or wording could change. But the general overview is don’t suck. If you suck, it defeats the entire purpose. Plus, you’d suck. And no one wants to suck.

For those who might be concerned about things they may share within the group somehow coming back to affect their offers for work, please be aware that Josh Roskamp (Business Agent, Local 26) and Jess Westra (President, Local 26) have said they will not be part of it. Not because they don’t want to or because they think it’s a bad idea, but because they don’t want anyone to avoid taking part because of their presence.

As you see in the graphic above, there is a completely separate email address for those who wish to take part in the group (local26mh@gmail.com) . That was done purposely to keep it separate from anything to do with the Local 26 office. While I will be leading the group, when I am there I am not a representative of the Executive Board or the office despite my positions there. I am simply the group facilitator while we meet.

To end on a personal note: If you need someone to talk to immediately, please reach out! Doesn’t have to be to me, although I will do my best to make time to talk to you if you do. But talk to someone. Friend, family member, religious figure, therapist, whoever will listen! I cannot express enough how much it helps to talk to someone. And if you don’t feel comfortable talking to a particular person for any reason, don’t! Not all personalities work well together. If you have a problem with another group member, please let me know and we’ll work out a solution. If you have a problem with me we’ll work that out, too.

We are all in this together, but we are all at different places mentally, financially, and physically. Please don’t feel you are alone, and please don’t feel you just need to “tough it out”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… THERE IS NO SHAME IN NEEDING HELP. Don’t try to go it alone; there’s no need. Self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity. I’d like to see all of you when we are finally back to work!