May 2020 -- Iyar-Sivan 5780,  Volume 26, Issue 5

c2020 Shoreline Publishing, Inc.      629 Fifth Avenue, Suite 213, Pelham, NY 10803      P: 914-738-7869

Mental Health Matters:  They Can No Longer Be Ignored

By Brenda P. Haas, LMSW, Ed.M.


As we ride the waves of uncertainty through this pandemic storm, we are noticing more:  more isolation, emotions, time on our hands, and unknowns. These uncharted waters trigger increased stress, anxiety, and fear in youth and their adult caregivers like we have never known. It seems that our conversations about emotional well-being and self-care are increasing, as we cannot ignore the profound effect these challenging times have on our overall health, mood, and daily living. Now more than ever is a time to be attuned to our community’s mental health.


May is Mental Health Awareness month, a time designated to examine how we engage (or often, avoid engaging) with mental health issues. Many still find it easier to talk about physical health than mental health. Through this pandemic and quarantine, youth, adults, and seniors’ mental health needs have intensified, and we must use our heightened sensitivity to our emotional needs to help continue to change the conversation.


For far too long, stigma and shame have been the greatest barriers to efficiently connecting to mental health care.  Childhood mental illness is real, and very common. One in five children in the U.S. suffers from a mental health disorder, reports the National Institute for Mental Health. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in youth and young adults ages 15-24. Yet, somehow many still find it more acceptable to get treatment for other significant illnesses than a mental health disorder. Mental health needs must be prioritized and addressed, just as urgently as physical health concerns. There is hope for the millions of children, youth, and families living with mental illness. Current research shows that many emotional and behavioral disorders can be mitigated if identified and treated in childhood and adolescence. There are many new and very effective treatments available.


Through COVID-19, and throughout the year, WJCS supports the Westchester Jewish Community as individuals and families navigate this storm and many other life challenges.  WJCS Jewish Programs continues to provide many programs and clinical services through telehealth video chats and calls. During this time of required social distancing, grief and loss punctuate our days. We struggle with loss of loved ones and miss the comforting life-cycle rituals that have changed for mourners. WJCS bereavement services support the community during this challenging time.


WJCS Partners in Caring provides synagogue support groups, Jewish Mindfulness Meditation, employment sessions, and parent support groups that address how to discuss the coronavirus with children. Our GPS (Guiding Parents Through Services) program is a consultation service for families who have questions or concerns about their children’s (early childhood through college-age) mental health needs. WJCS Partners in Schools supports Jewish Day Schools, providing consultation and referral for families, students and school staff, and Project SEED nurtures young children’s early emotional development. Through the WJCS Spiritual Healing Center, there are meaningful workshops providing an opportunity for participants to connect with faith and community.


Another significant WJCS initiative is Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA), a nationally recognized, evidence-based certification course, that teaches warning signs and risk factors of various mental health challenges common among adolescents, and ways to deal with them until professional help is available. Like CPR, YMHFA teaches how to be a first responder for a mental health challenge or crisis.


Community conversations about mental health are expanding and deepening. Not only in May, but every day, we can use this moment to be more attuned to each other’s mental health, reach out and connect to appropriate care, to help build healthy coping, resilience and hope.


Brenda P. Haas, LMSW, coordinator of the WJCS GPS (Guiding Parents Through Services) program and WJCS Partners in Schools consultant to the Leffell School. For more information about WJCS Jewish Programs, please contact: Sherry Birnbaum,, 761-00600, ext. 2140