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Mothers Share Experiences Raising Child With Mental Health Challenges

Headshots of two women in a split screen
Amber Vernon (left) and CD Vauters (right)

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations. In many instances, the participants discover they have more in common than they thought.

Richmond is a city of contradictions, at least according to Dr. Amber Vernon, who emphasizes how the river city is celebrated for its food and festivals taking place in one area, while the struggling areas a few miles away are seemingly ignored. CD Vauters, a retired librarian, sees those contradictions happening across Virginia, and took matters into her own hands, preserving a historic family cemetery in Hampton. The two spoke about preserving history, creating a better future and having a child with mental health challenges.

Until recently, Vernon saw Monument Avenue as a “very white space,” saying historically white people watched hangings around the area where the Robert E. Lee statue sits. But now, she says “people are coming together for a very different purpose,” with most of the confederate statues taken down.

Likewise, Vauters sees that area, which many now call the Marcus-David Peters Circle, as a gathering place for the community. She visits the circle and is often moved by her experience each time, mentioning she saw children of all different backgrounds playing together on the Lee statue as if it was a jungle-gym. “These children would have never crossed paths...or never play together, and there they were,” said Vauters.

Vernon is glad to see her city of contradictions — the capital of the Confederacy and the current capital of Virginia — may become a city of progress. “I feel like change is possible and I didn’t always feel that way,” said Vernon. “My political values are really driven by protection and fairness towards people who are vulnerable, who are oppressed."

Of those vulnerable or oppressed could be her child, who has mental health challenges. “It's hard as a parent to watch your kids struggle and to feel like could I have done something different,” said Vernon, who also works in the mental health industry.

Vauters understands how life-changing raising a child with mental health challenges can be. She remembers learning about her son’s mental health issues when he came home from college after the fall semester. “I couldn't return to work after the Christmas holiday,” she said. “I actually stayed out a whole other week trying to get myself together."

Vauters often wonders if she had done more research on medications and treatment plans if her son would have a different life now. Her son, who now lives independently, struggled to consistently take his prescribed medication, and it wasn’t until they learned about an injection they found a solid treatment plan. “I think had...we known about the injection maybe, had we been advocates for the medication, known about the injection maybe early on Mario could have had...the kind of life that he intended,” said Vauters.

Unfortunately, Vernon’s child had the opposite experience, in which medication didn’t work and they needed some “really intensive treatment.” Though due to the pandemic and taking care of her family, Vernon wasn’t able to be as active politically. “I feel a lot of guilt that I'm not out there knocking on doors,” said Vernon. With COVID-19, it’s been more challenging for Vernon to access mental health resources for her child.

Vauters was surprised at Vernon’s openness. “If everybody could just honestly get right down to the core of what's causing the division I think...we could all come together,” said Vauters. For Vauters, this year was the first time she wasn’t on the political sidelines, she went on the field, helping campaign and attending candidate events. She wishes life and politics were more like sports, in which the rules are the same for everyone on either side.

While Vauters and Vernon have participated in politics, they’re both fairly guarded about their beliefs, especially when it comes to someone they’re close with, like a family member. Neither of them want to upset or possibly change their relationship with loved ones. For Vauters and Vernon, it’s never been about political parties, but rather individuals, who they believe aren’t meant to align perfectly with either party. But with only two main parties in the United States, they hope to get better at articulating their beliefs, and after speaking to one another, the two think they’re off to a good start.

StoryCorps' One Small Step is made possible in by part the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 


A previous version used male pronouns when referring to Amber Vernon's child. The article has been updated with gender-neutral pronouns.