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Jewish Family Services of WNY offers mental health resources for teens and their parents

Mon, May 6th 2024 01:35 pm

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Guest Editorial Submitted on Behalf of Jewish Family Services

While changing emotions can be a normal part of adolescence, being proactive and understanding the signs to look out for before those feelings are heightened is crucial – as early intervention and treatment are key to mental wellness.

Jewish Family Services of Western New York (JFS) focuses its behavioral health and counseling efforts on working with refugee teens and their families. However, even across cultures, JFS shares that the fundamentals of teenage mental health remain the same.

“Trauma is very prevalent in immigrant and refugee youth, often times going undetected due to a lack of cultural understanding of what mental health looks like,” said Bijoux Bahati, manager of trauma systems therapy for refugee youth, Jewish Family Services. “Anything we can do to build trust and speak mental health in a language and manner that’s understood is critical. The same fundamentals can be applied to all parents and teens in our community regardless of language barriers by understanding what their teen might be experiencing, building trust, and encouraging communication.”

For Mental Health Awareness Month this May, JFS is sharing some ways parents of teens can be proactively prepared in addition to signs to watch for. JFS, as well as other behavioral health and community organizations throughout the community, offer programs and resources to help both parents and teens with preventative care.

Some things for parents to keep in mind when educating yourself about mental health:

•Regular communication is key, whether it’s checking in with your teen, asking questions or, more importantly, just listening. Be involved with your kids so they feel comfortable coming to you with any issue or concern. For example, comments such as “I don’t have any friends” shouldn’t be ignored; it could be your teen’s way of trying to be more open.

•Pay attention to your teen’s normal tendencies to be able to tell when those behaviors shift, even if subtle. For example, if your teen is usually talkative and has recently become quieter or you have noticed a lack of hygiene, those changes in demeanor could be the sign of something bigger. With school playing a major role in a teen’s day-to-day life, issues at school can play a role in mental health disorders. For example, struggling academically, missing days, or being bullied can all be signs.

•Build trusting relationships with others outside of your family, be it a teacher, coach or neighbor – a person that your teen has identified as someone they can talk to. This is also important if you might not immediately be available.

•Identify agencies and programs that have resources available, so you have them in hand, even just to ask questions. For example, if you might not be able to articulate what is going on due to language barriers, is there extra language support you can receive.

•Talk with your teen about what might trigger different feelings. Having the ability and self-awareness to recognize these triggers, along with working with them proactively on coping skills to help mitigate the situation – whether that could be a fidget or journaling to occupy one’s thoughts in response to high emotions – it’s important to have a plan.

•Be aware of what is going on both locally and globally. Sometimes these ongoing crises can exacerbate what a teen may be going through. For example, something like a gym drill in school could retrigger memories of war for a refugee teen.

•With summer vacation just around the corner, keep your teens in as much of a routine as possible, while also keeping them engaged. Be mindful that being at home more, finding that first summer job, or going to a new camp could have an impact on their feelings and work with your teen on a plan.

Since 2014, JFS has offered education to families and young children, touching the lives of nearly 1,500 children and parents, the majority refugees. JFS recently implemented The Parents and Teens Together in a New Country Project to discuss and address the challenges of acculturating to the United States. It’s estimated that up to 40% of refugee youth experience significant mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder and PTSD.

More on Jewish Family Services of WNY

Since 1862, Jewish Family Services of Western New York has been providing all members of our community with critical health and human services, regardless of religion, ethnicity, cultural background, gender identification, ability or age. The life-changing and wide-ranging services from elder care to refugee resettlement to behavioral and physical health are provided by professional staff and supported by an extended family of dedicated volunteers and generous donors. For more information, visit jfswny.org.

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