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Helping parents fight the loneliness epidemic

The U.S. Surgeon General is sounding the alarm about a mental health epidemic that may have serious physical consequences: feelings of loneliness and isolation.

One of the highest-risk groups is parents of young children and babies. At Bluebird Music Together classes, owner Rebbecca Oppedisano is working to give parents and caregivers a safe space to fight loneliness.

"When a mom has a baby, their whole life changes. Everything shifts, their priorities shift, their friends kind of shift, and often it can be very isolating,” she said.

Tiffany Rickert, a mother of two, said she found the program when her oldest was born, and she felt the need to find a community of people who understood her.

"One of the reasons why I went was because I was like, 'I need to be able to go somewhere on time with a baby, feel comfortable breastfeeding if he needs to, feel comfortable changing, feel comfortable if he cries,” Rickert said.

The class encourages parents and kids to echo each other, sing in rounds, and play instruments to help build a sense of community.

Emily Marfilius started taking the classes as a mom and got so much out of it, she became a Music Together teacher.

"Parenting is one of the hardest things, but it can be really fun when you're connecting with other people going through the same things,” she said.

Oppedisano said music has known physiological benefits to help improve well-being.

"You're getting this bonding. You're getting this emotional support. You're getting these endorphin rushes. You're getting movement. You're getting language skills,” Oppedisano said. “I mean, there's so much going on when you're just singing a simple song with a group of people together."

Parents like Rickert encourage others to take that first step to get out of the house. "It's really hard,” she said. “It's hard between nap schedules. It's really hard, but just do it no matter what."

And Oppedisano said even when parents are home with children too little to talk, they can still use musical techniques to feel like they aren’t alone.

"It can be really magical. When you're listening for those musical moments and doing some of the bonding activities that we do with your child, it can really help you to connect with them."

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.