Month focuses on children's mental health: Jewish Family Services

May 21, 2012

With May serving Children's Mental Health Month, it's worth noting that all is not carefree for young folks who have yet to pay a mortgage, buy a car or haggle with a health insurer over phantom expenses.

Marlene Schillinger, President and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Buffalo, says her agency sees plenty of cases of children struggling with serious mental health issues, like peer pressure, depression, even suicidal thoughts.

"I think that it's always been around. As really bad things happen in the digital age, we find out about it sooner. People are more willing to come forward and tell their story. Like cancer was 30 years ago and nobody spoke about it, people are starting to come forward."

For some parents, silence is not always golden when it comes to talking with their teenage son or daughter.

Schillinger offers some common sense remedies for that reality.

"If you know your child. If you can figure out how to create those spaces in your life and that child's life, whether it's talking to your child because they're strapped in the car seat next to you, or you're waiting at the bus stop or eating at the dinner table, you take the opportunity. You seize the time to create the space that they can get back to you and tell you what's going on."

It's a frightening list of "what could be going on:" Drugs. Alcohol. Sexual risks.  The realities are daunting.

According to some estimates, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Numbers worth keeping in mind because sometimes, as Schillinger suggest, parents need to be ready to take important steps on their child's behalf.

"You have to take your cues from your child.But you also have to know when you have to sit them down and say 'Time's up. I've been watching this. I've been waiting for you to talk to me and now I need to know what's going on.'"

The script of every household doesn't read like an episode of "Father Knows Best," or "Happy Days." 

Schillinger notes that, for whatever reason, the parent-child relationship doesn't always allow for heart-to-heart communication, but there are alternatives.

"Or you have an adult speak to them who is non-threatening. Maybe it's an aunt or an uncle, or a teacher, or an older brother or sister. I think the biggest challenge is to be keyed into what's going on in their world. And I think it's critical."

Then, of course, what do you do if you sense your child has an issue?

Schillinger says her agency is among those ready to serve families with issues with no regard to race, finances or faith.

Jewish Family Service has a social worker available by phone during the day at 833-1914.

"We also now have for children, we have a new e-mail site. It's kids@jfsbuffalo.org. So why not just send an anonymous e-mail.Have it answered.It doesn't take the place of treatment, but it begins to start that road."

And hopefully, on a path to a  healthier relationship with the teens in your life which would likely translate into a happier home and family.