By James J. Welsh, CEO, Family & Children Services
Mental illness has received a lot of attention over the last few weeks. While the reason is tragic, it provides an important opportunity to consider as a community the emotional well being of our children and youth.
I am new to this area, having moved from Michigan with my family in November. As I have gotten to know the other service providers in the area, I have been impressed by the wealth and range of services available for children and families. This is clearly a community that values and cares about its members.
Caring for youth includes teaching them that seeking counseling is more than OK. By example and encouragement, children and youth will view counseling as a resource to help them achieve what they want in their lives. The residual perception that seeking care is shameful will vanish.
Counseling is a vast resource. While it helps children and youth with learning differences, depression, anxiety, and other more easily recognizable issues, its applications are much broader.
For example, all children need to learn to cope with change. Throughout their lives, they will encounter unexpected events, out-of-the-blue opportunities, and powerful challenges. Successfully managing transitions requires understanding ourselves and having confidence in our ability to handle change.
This, like building social skills, is an important life skill that supports children's learning, leadership development, and future achievements. Counselors are trained to help children and youth develop these skills.
As parents, school staff, and service providers, our job is to make a sincere commitment to be available for children and teenagers on an ongoing basis.
How? By being there for them, consistently. We tell kids we are available as long as they need care, and then we fulfill the promise. They are not offered a set number of counseling sessions and at the end told care is over, regardless of their progress.
We help them build a network of support, so that their needs are met, and we help them learn to access the wealth of resources available to them. We show them that looking after their mental health care is just as important as staying physically healthy, so they will to seek care whenever they need it throughout their lives.
How do we get there? I think we continue to talk and to learn. Dialogue and increased awareness are vital to finally removing the stigma from seeking mental health care.
An example of a group that is working toward this goal is the Circle of Support committee. This group of dedicated volunteers is presenting a breakfast on May 10 in Palo Alto. The featured speaker will be parenting expert Mike Riera, Ph.D., who will speak on "The Hidden Logic of Children & Teenagers."
Understanding, communicating with, and building strong relationships with their children are among the leading concerns for parents. We support the emotional health of parents and children when we provide supportive educational opportunities.
I look forward to continuing the discussion.
About the author: James Welsh is president and CEO of Family & Children Services, a Palo Alto-based health and human services agency serving San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. You can reach Mr. Welsh by calling 650-326-6576 or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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