Our Children in Need – Mental Health in The South Jersey Community

Depression, addiction, suicide, anxiety, trauma. These five words are some most of us would rather not discuss as a matter of course, especially when it pertains to young people. For a great many of us, they can be uncomfortable words to swallow. But what if, by raising awareness and offering support, we were able to change those five words to read hope, healing, promise, happiness, growth? What if by having difficult conversations and becoming informed we could help save or enrich the life of a young person dealing with mental illness or addiction issues.

JFCS is committed to offering counseling programs and outreach for young people all year long, but as the 10th anniversary of the Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day arrives on Thursday, May 7, it is our collective duty and responsibility as a community to address the mental health needs of America’s youngest citizens. It is a day to focus on children and youth living with mental illness and to come together to advocate for a full array of effective services and supports for children affected by mental illness.

Whether they suffer from abuse or mental illness, the fact is that our children need us to learn, and open our eyes wide to the world. Because, for many of them, the path toward wellness is too cloudy to see. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “an estimated 15 million of our nation’s young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Many more are at risk of developing a disorder due to risk factors in their biology or genetics; within their families, schools, and communities; and among their peers.  It is estimated that only about 7 percent of these youth who need services receive appropriate help from mental health professionals.”

In a recent study, the Center for Disease Control explains the numbers, “ Children’s mental disorders affect many children and families. Boys and girls of all ages, ethnic/racial backgrounds, and regions of the United States experience mental disorders. The same age group statistics show that 4.7% report illicit drug use disorder in the past year, 4.2% report alcohol use disorder in the past year, and 2.8% report cigarette dependence in the past month (2.8%).

Furthermore, many are suffering mental abuse at the hands of their partner, or is an abuser with a mental illness.  The Love Is Respect website reports nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year; One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence; One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

It’s important to be aware of the patterns, prevalence and detrimental factors of all mental illness or trauma affecting our young people, whether the cause of mental distress is hereditary, environmental, or self-inflicted.

JFCS, in addition to constantly raising awareness, offers many programs and services to help the youth of our area. We will be expanding the JFCS heroin addiction program, “Right in Our Backyard” to reach schools in Camden County this year. So far the program has reached over 400 students and parents at five area synagogues and organizations.  We will continue to offer and present our Building Health Relationships programs to teach teens about the signs and issues of toxic or abusive relationships – nearly 700 teens have found benefit from this program. On May 17, in partnership with Temple Emanuel, we will host a special expo on mental health, called Healing of the Soul, or R’fuat HaNefesh, with keynote speaker, Sean Astin.  The expo presentation “We Will Listen” will help to create a stigma free zone in our community, through education and dialogue. 

We can make the words hope, healing, promise, happiness, growth a reality. All we have to do is listen, share, and exercise compassion.  If you, or someone you know, is dealing with mental health issues, please contact us, or join one of the aforementioned programs.  We know the journey isn’t easy, and we won’t allow anyone to go it alone.



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