Is your child’s change in behavior just a phase, or do you need to ask for help? And if you do, where do you turn?
Rivertown Parents, a consortium of local PTAs and Mercy College, recently brought together experts in the mental health field in response to reports of rising childhood anxiety and depression. Nearly 100 people packed Irvington Theater to hear from a diverse panel discussing “In It Together: Supporting and Understanding Our Children’s Emotional and Mental Well Being.”
Randi Silverman, a parent advocate and the Founder and Executive Director of the Youth Mental Health Project, kicked things off by encouraging the audience to look at mental health as something to be treated rather than to be embarrassed about. “We have to stand up and stop isolating ourselves and start sharing our stories with the world,” she said. “We have to stop being afraid of being blamed.” After she laid the groundwork, other panelists returned to the point that mental health needs to be viewed the same way we view physical health. “If we think we have a broken arm or our child has a broken arm we bring them to a doctor. There’s nothing wrong with going to check it out.”
While our children are in the midst of receiving the second year of New York State mandated mental health education, many feel a crisis is occurring right now and we need tools to help our kids. When the panel was posed the question, “How do I get my kid to talk when they keep saying nothing is wrong?”, Anthony Puliafico, Psychologist, Director of Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders – Westchester, said, “Just get them in the car. Some of the best conversations happen in the car.” These comments received laughs and acknowledging nods.
In the same vein, Irvington Public Schools Social Worker Gina Menendez advised, “Pay attention to when they are open to answer questions or talk.” She shared how she moved bedtime back a half hour because her young one always chooses to disclose the most important information when they are lounging before bedtime.
As a parent, I considered all the ways these strategies might not work or might disrupt boundaries and routines. The take-away was to be interested in what our children experience without too much open fear and anxiety of our own. As Silverman stated, “We need to allow them the space to feel angry or sad instead of trying to fix it. We need to let them go through necessary processes and feel okay with uncomfortable feelings.”
But this returns us to the question: “How do we know that we need to get help for our kids?” Michael Orth, Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health, explained, “We need to evaluate the duration, intensity, and frequency of their issues and whether they interrupt their everyday functioning.” Orth noted that 50% of all mental health disorders emerge before kids turn fourteen. Randi Silverman added: “Within many of our boys, depression shows up as irritability rather than sadness.”
For those interested in getting support for their kids, our schools are there to help, along with organizations like those headed by Michael Orth (mentalhealth.westchestergov.com) and Anthony Puliafico (columbiapsychiatry.org/clinicalservices/cucard-westchester).
Rivertown Parents represents Irvington, Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, and Hastings schools so that each year events like “In It Together” are offered to the river town communities. For more information, visit rivertownparents.com.
To view the “In It Together” presentation, visit youtube.com/watch?v=60xG96T3Itg.