What Simone Biles Has Taught Us

What Simone Biles Has Taught Us

Published originally in Anton Media, Parenting Plus column, August 20 2021, By Kathy Rivera

After working in the mental health field for more than two decades, it should have come as no shock to me when I read some of the negative responses to Simone Biles’ announcement that she was pulling out of the Olympics team competition due to anxiety and other emotional challenges—but it stung, nevertheless.

On social media, TV and other outlets, outraged commenters called her everything from a coward to a quitter to a spoiled brat. Texas deputy attorney general Aaron Reitz went so far as say that Biles was a “national embarrassment.”

Former British TV host Piers Morgan tweeted, “Are ‘mental health issues’ now the go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport? What a joke. Just admit you did badly, made mistakes, and will strive to do better next time. Kids need strong role models, not this nonsense.”

Would these naysayers have been so harsh if Biles had pulled out because of a broken foot or burst appendix? 

These comments are a clear sign that stigma surrounding mental health issues is still pervasive. Fortunately, however, there was some very positive news: The level of support for Biles from other athletes, celebrities, public figures and everyday people far outweighed the negativity, with many describing her frankness in discussing mental health as brave and inspiring.

Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, who has been open about his own mental health challenges, put it this way: “We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to go through ups and down and emotional rollercoasters. The biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help when we go through those times.”

While few of our children are under the intense public scrutiny as are Biles, Phelps, tennis star Naomi Osaka or the many celebrities who have been discussing their mental health issues, they still face enormous pressures, especially given the disruption and fear brought on by the pandemic.

At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we’ve been receiving a growing number of calls from parents concerned about their children and teens’ mental health. Many describe classic signs of depression and anxiety: withdrawal from friends, lack of interest in activities that normally gave them pleasure, mood swings, agitation, sleeplessness (or oversleeping), changes to eating patterns, substance abuse—even thoughts of suicide.

While mental health issues existed in kids long before the pandemic struck (an estimated one in five youth experience a mental illness), I believe we are on the verge of a crisis that may well surpass anything we’ve ever experienced. For many young people, their very foundations were shaken apart during the pandemic, with fear and hopelessness about the future enveloping them to the point of unending despair. 

How can you help? The situation with Simone Biles has provided an opportunity for families to discuss stigma and for caregivers to teach kids that no one should ever feel ashamed if they are feeling sad, anxious or emotionally overwhelmed. You can tell your children that Simone was brave to speak out and put her mental health first. You can also let them know that you are there for them, without judgment and with an open mind and heart, whenever they are feeling down.

You can also encourage your schools, religious organizations, medical professionals and other community resources to include discussions about mental health and provide resources for kids who are having difficulties. Don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health organizations like ours for information and support. 

Bottom line: It’s everyone’s responsibility to educate themselves about mental health and to stand up to stigma. Let’s use the opportunity surrounding Simone Biles’ brave decision to open up about her struggles to provide our kids with the knowledge, support and understanding they will need during the challenges that lie ahead.

Kathy Rivera, LCSW, is the new Executive Director/CEO of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading non-profit mental health organization which has been serving our community for nearly 70 years. The Guidance Center never turns anyone away for inability to pay. To get help for your child or to support the organization’s life-saving work, call (516) 626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

The Ultimate Loss: A Family’s Story Of Addiction In The Age Of Killer Drugs

The Ultimate Loss: A Family’s Story Of Addiction In The Age Of Killer Drugs

Last month, family and friends of Jason Witler, a 2011 graduate of Syosset High School, gathered at the high school baseball field to celebrate the life of a young man who died this past April from an accidental overdose of a drug laced with fentanyl. The event, the Jason Daniel Witler Memorial Home Run Derby, raised funds to support the work of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency, which has an outpatient adolescent chemical dependency program.

Three of Jason’s closest friends—Ashley Sullo, Jordan Slavin and Max Ferro—came up with the idea of the Home Run Derby shortly after Jason’s death, explains Slavin, who had been close to Witler since kindergarten.
“Several of us talked about getting together to share memories of Jason, but we realized that he would want us to do something to make people in the community happy, because he loved to make everyone laugh and smile,” Slavin said. “We also wanted to raise money for an organization that was important to Jason and his family that provides help for people struggling with addiction.”

Legislator Joshua. A Lafazan

The trio asked their Syosset High School classmate and Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan to help, and he was quick to join the effort, which drew more than 100 attendees.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to all who came out to show support and participate in the Jason Daniel Witler Memorial Home Run Derby,” Lafazan said. “Working with community partners, we were able to raise thousands of dollars in Jason’s memory to support the critical work that North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center does on Long Island.”

The Journey Of Addiction
According to Bonnie Witler, Jason’s mother, her son’s addiction issues began in his mid-teens. “One night, Jason came home after being out with his friends and my daughter came running into my room and said, ‘Mom, come downstairs! Jason’s barred out.’ I had no idea what she meant, but later learned it meant he was high on Xanax.”

For her part, Witler’s sister Dana had seen many friends with addiction issues, so she knew the signs when she saw them in her brother. “Addiction devastates families,” she says. “It usually starts small, with drugs like Percocet and Roxies [both opioids], but eventually they move on to cheaper and easily available drugs, even heroin, because they don’t have the money to keep up with it.”

Sadly, Witler’s addiction struggles are all too familiar for many families on Long Island and across the country. According to government reports, nationwide overdose deaths reached a record 93,000 in 2020. On Long Island, fatal drug overdoses rose 34 percent in Nassau and nearly 12 percent in Suffolk, and many experts believe the pandemic played a role in that increase.

The Witler family from left: Jordan, Dana, Bonnie and Jason
(Photo courtesy of the Witler family)

Our country has been facing a worsening and deadly overdose epidemic for the past several years, and fentanyl—the drug responsible for Witler’s accidental death—is a huge factor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl was involved in more than 60 percent of nationwide overdose deaths last year.
“Fentanyl is a powerful pain pill that’s being cut into heroin, cocaine and other drugs,” says Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Director of the Leeds Place, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Westbury facility that houses its outpatient chemical dependency program. “It’s up to 100 times stronger than morphine, which makes it extremely cheap—and extremely deadly.”

Mental Health And Addiction
Witler’s family sought help from a variety of addictions specialists during his teens. After a year-plus stretch in inpatient rehab, he returned to Syosset High School in his senior year, to the delight of his many friends. He was sober—but Bonnie Witler soon realized that her son’s issues were complicated.
“As we were getting ready to shop for Jason’s senior prom, he had a meltdown,” she explained. “I took him to the emergency room, and they said he’d had a manic episode.”
This was the first time anyone had suggested that Jason had a mental health condition. “I then knew that he’d been misdiagnosed most of his life,” says Witler.

Indeed, mental health challenges and addiction struggles often go hand in hand, says Taylor-Walthrust. “With the increased number of youth and adolescents seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders, the most effective outcome is to treat both disorders simultaneously,” she explained.

Witler eventually moved to Florida for treatment, and Sullo, Jason’s girlfriend from Syosset, moved down to live with him. He got a job in real estate, and his life seemed to be on the right track.
“Jason was doing so well,” Sullo said. “He was clean and sober for five years, and he was dedicated to helping others stay drug-free. He was such a kind soul.”

She shares just one example: “Jason saw a guy he knew from a 12-step meeting at a gas station, and the kid didn’t look well,” Sullo recalled. “Jason made a point to get his number. For weeks, he called him every day, and they went to meetings together. He really cared about other people.”

A Mother’s Grief Turns To Activism
No one is sure what happened that caused Witler’s relapse, according to his mother and friends. The pandemic isolation may have been a factor, they say, but that’s only a guess.
As for Bonnie Witler, who moved to Florida a few months prior to Jason’s death to be near her son, her devastating loss has been made more bearable by her new role as an activist in the battle against addiction and the fentanyl crisis.

“I call myself a MOM, for ‘Mom on a Mission,’” Witler said, who is an active participant in various committees focusing on substance abuse, mental health and the fentanyl crisis. Witler was honored to be included in Sober House Task Force meetings created in July 2016 by Palm Beach County State Attorney General Dave Aronberg. The task force’s work has led to new regulations of sober homes and treatment centers in Florida that have become the model for other states.

Witler, who recently appeared on WSVN news channel in Florida, is also working with the head counsel of the American Medical Association to lobby congress to pass legislation related to the fentanyl crisis.
“Although many drug users have heard about the dangers of fentanyl, their addiction is too strong,” Witler said, “They are playing Russian Roulette.”

She adds that, because of fentanyl, “drugs are now weapons of murder. Dealers are actually charged with homicide.”
Acknowledging the widespread impact of addiction, Witler’s sister Dana said, “This is not just a Witler family problem, it’s a community problem, and that’s why sharing his story is so important. People need to realize that there’s help out there. We need to end the stigma, so people don’t think they have to handle this all alone.”

A Community Comes Together
The Jason Daniel Witler Memorial Home Run Derby provided a wonderful opportunity for Jason’s friends and family to comfort each other and to honor the life of a young man who cared deeply for others. The community responded in a big way. That day, more than $8,000 was raised, but through the generosity of the incredible people who made contributions in Jason’s memory before and after the event, the total reached more than $35,000, which will support the Guidance Center’s important work.

Ken Witler, Jason’s father, was awed by the large turnout. “It was all because of the hard work of Ashley, Jordan and Max, along with Josh Lafazan and his staff.” He added, “We’re glad that the proceeds will go to the Guidance Center, knowing they will be used to help kids and families struggling with addiction issues.”

Bonnie Witler says that she was “elated” for most of the day at the memorial, as so many young people and parents approached her about how much they felt her son was a part of their family and that “they loved having him around, with his great smile and big laugh.”
By the end of the day, however, the grief overcame her as she explained, “It comes in waves, and you have to feel your feelings.” But she feels best when doing all she can to prevent other families from undergoing the tremendous loss that she and her family now live with every day.

“The pain of losing a child is so enormous that some days I just don’t think I can make it,” she said. “But if I can help another life, it gives me reason to go on. Maybe Jason’s life will save hundreds of others.”

—Jenna Kern-Rugile is the Director of Communications at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center

Providing a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Teens, Originally published in Anton Media Newspapers Parenting Plus column, July 21, 2021

Providing a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Teens, Originally published in Anton Media Newspapers Parenting Plus column, July 21, 2021

By Elissa Smilowitz

Recently, I spoke with a mother who was navigating an issue that has become increasingly common for many families here on Long Island and across the nation. Her 12-year-old daughter told her that she thinks she may be a lesbian, but that she’s feeling confused. The mom asked me how to best approach this conversation so her daughter would feel comfortable sharing her thoughts without fear of being judged or rejected. 

The first thing I told this mom was that it’s very promising to hear that she is keeping the lines of communication open and assuring her daughter that she can trust her family to be supportive as she ponders these deeply personal questions. 

More and more, we see clients at the Guidance Center who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community; some call themselves gay or lesbian, while others are exploring their gender and/or sexual identity. Research indicates that a growing number of teenagers are identifying themselves with nontraditional gender labels such as transgender or gender-fluid, and our experience backs that up.

Regardless of the names that are used, one thing is a constant: When young people face disapproval from their families based on preferences or gender issues, they are far more likely to experience depression, anxiety, substance use and suicidal thoughts.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals the dangers of rejection. The CDC reports that LGBTQ+ youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate as heterosexual youth. In addition, LGBTQ+ youth who come from “highly rejecting families” are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as their LGBTQ+ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Some more eye-opening statistics: According to the Human Rights Campaign’s report, Growing Up LGBT in America, a survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ+-identified youth ages 13-17:

  • 4 in 10 say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBTQ+ people.
  • They are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved.
  • 26% say their biggest problems are not feeling accepted by their family. Other top concerns include trouble at school/bullying and fear to be out/open.
  • More than half (54%) say they have been verbally harassed and called names involving anti-gay slurs.
  • LGBTQ+ youth are more than twice as likely as non-LGBTQ+ youth to experiment with alcohol and drugs.
  • 92% say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ+. The top sources are school, the Internet and their peers.

Kids around the ages of 12 – 13 are at a time in their lives when they are discovering who they are, and for some, that brings up issues surrounding their sexual preferences and gender identity. As the CDC research shows, parental response is enormously important. 

Youth who are exploring these issues need the unconditional support of their families, as they do with any other life concerns. They need to know they can be themselves without risking judgment. 

The best response is clear: Express unconditional love and acceptance. Whether or not an adolescent ends up identifying as LGBTQ+ doesn’t change the fact that parents need to be calm and supportive. Tell them you will love them the same no matter what, and that you are there for them always.

There are some great resources to help you on this journey. One is The LGBT Network, an association of non-profit organizations working to serve the LGBTQ+ community of Long Island and Queens throughout their lifespan. It includes a group specifically for young people, called the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY), which works to build community, provide a home and safe space for all, end anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and prevent suicide. Nationally, The Trevor Project also provides lots of helpful information.

If your child or teen shows signs of depression or other mental health challenges, don’t hesitate to get help from a professional. To make an appointment at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, call (516) 626-1971 or email intake@northshorechildguidance.org.

Elissa Smilowitz is the Director of Triage, Emergency & Suicide Prevention at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency. 

Gender identity terms

  • Gender identity: A person’s deeply held internal sense of being male or female or somewhere else on the gender spectrum.
  • Sex assigned at birth: The classification people are given at birth regarding sex and, typically, gender, usually based on genitalia.
  • Transgender: A person whose gender identity is different, and often fully opposite, from their sex assigned at birth.
  • Cisgender: A person whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.
  • Gender nonbinary: A person who identifies as both male and female, or somewhere in between male and female.
  • Gender fluid: Your sense of where you are on the spectrum of male to female can change over time, even from day to day.

Sexual identity terms

  • Lesbian: A woman who wants to be in a relationship with another woman.
  • Gay: A man who wants to be in a relationship with another man (though sometimes lesbians also use this term).
  • Bisexual: Someone who is sexually attracted to both men and women.
  • Pansexual: Someone who is interested in having relationships with all genders.

If your child or teen is expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings, we can help through our Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project. To learn more, click here

Closing Out a Career of Helping Others, Anton Media, by Dave Del Rubio, May 17, 2021

Closing Out a Career of Helping Others, Anton Media, by Dave Del Rubio, May 17, 2021

Guidance Center executive director retires after 45 years.

When Andrew Malekoff retires in July, it will have been after spending his entire 45-year career at Roslyn’s North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center. When he arrived as an intern to do his second-year field placement while working towards his masters degree at the Adelphi University School of Social Work, little did Malekoff know he’d leave four and a half decades later as the executive director. It’s an experience he treasures and attributes to how special a place North Shore was to work at all these years.

“It was really inspiring for me to become a part of an organization that was exclusively devoted to working with children, youth, teenagers and families,” he said. “We saw anybody that needed us without turning anybody away for inability to pay. Being able to be a part of an organization that had access to universal mental health care was really exciting. It was also innovative and saw children not as broken part. We invited the whole person to participate in the work that we did, so there was a kind of culture and tradition that I became a part of and was ultimately able to carry forth. That was really exciting. It felt like the right fit for me and was a big part of why I stayed there for so long.”

Having had a front-row seat, Malekoff saw changes in the clientele that sought North Shore’s help. “Just being able to observe things from the waiting room alone, you could see there was a big change over time.” Malekoff recalled. “It was a much more homogeneous, white, ethnic population [in the beginning]. Over time, there were more people of color and different religions. People dressed differently—some with religious garb. There were different accents, languages and so forth. Different groups over a period of time that were more reticent about going outside of the home and wherever they might traditionally go to seek help—for them to see that this was an alternative they could take advantage of versus what was available.”

During Malekoff’s run, he spent 15 years as a monthly contributor to Anton Community Newspapers. Publisher Angela Anton invited him to pen a column that initially started out as Parenting in February 2007 before it evolved into Parenting Matters a few years later. Despite having extensive experience as the author of a widely used textbook (Group Work with Adolescents: Principles and Practices, now in its third edition) and being the editor of the professional journal Social Work with Groups, the New Jersey native admits this new outlet required a creative pivot on his part.


“The discipline of writing a monthly column was something new to me,” he said. “It was a great opportunity and I like to take on new challenges like the experience of coming up with ideas and then putting something into 500 or 600 words and appealing to not just a professional audience, but to the regular citizenry so to speak. At the time, the column was called Parenting and I had wanted to change it and discussed that at the time with Angela. We changed it to Parenting Plus. I wanted to put the ‘Plus’ in because I felt there were things that I could write about that would fall outside of the more rigid guidelines of writing about parenting and kids. I thought [it could encompass] other issues whether it was government, policy or with certain news events that were reflections of issues of mental health that people would be interested in and give me a little more latitude.”

Over time, Parenting Plus became on of Anton’s more popular columns, always generating plenty of interest in print along with a heavy flow of traffic on the web. For Anton, bringing Malekoff into the editorial fold was an easy decision, particularly given the work she’d seen him do in his role at the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center.


“I have know Andy from the start as a board member and as a dear friend,” she said. “He was responsible for starting many new programs and receiving many government grants at the North Shore Child And Family Guidance Center. The center was stronger because of him and as a columnist, we will always cherish the insight he brought to every story he wrote.”

Future Executive Director Andrew Malekoff got his start with the North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center as an intern in 1977

Malekoff’s path to a career in social work wasn’t readily apparent in the beginning. Born in Newark, he moved to the leafy Jersey suburb of Maplewood, eventually going to Rutgers University on a football scholarship as a linebacker, eventually being one of the two defensive captains of the 1972 Scarlet Knights football team. And while he earned a bachelor of arts in business, the idea of serving others came via work with volunteer organizations, first at Rutgers and then following his university graduation.


“When I was attending Rutgers University. I joined something called Rutgers Community Action, which was sort of a Big Brothers-type program,” he said. “That was my first exposure that I had to anything that would be considered close to social work. I majored in economics and thought I would go into business. [Social work] wasn’t anything I pursued. After trying a few different things after college, I joined VISTA, which is Volunteers In Service To America, which is the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps. I went out to Grand Island, NE, where I lived and worked in a Mexican-American community for about three years. It was during the course of my work with teenagers and families there that I decided that I wanted to pursue this as a career.”

Having spent 45 years helping families and youth get through trauma, one thing Malekoff says hasn’t changed is the anxiety and depression young people continue to experience. For him, these experiences require quite a bit of self forgiveness for the people going through these trials and tribulations.


“It’s a harsh world and it’s easy to be too hard on yourself,” he said. “Anthropologist Joseph Campbell came up with a favorite quote of mine ‘Perfection is not lovable. It’s the clumsiness of a fault that makes a person lovable. It’s something that’s a little longer than go easy on yourself. I give that out because sometimes I think people can be too hard on themselves and think that they have to be perfect. It’s a great lesson for parents and for parents to give to kids. It doesn’t mean you don’t try to hard or strive for excellence. It means you go a little bit easier on yourself than otherwise.”

Top photo: from left: North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center board member Rita Castagna, North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center Executive Director Andrew Malekoff and Anton Media Group publisher Angela Anton

Guidance Center Hosts Shopping Benefit in Roslyn Village, Anton, April 28, 2021

Guidance Center Hosts Shopping Benefit in Roslyn Village, Anton, April 28, 2021

On Tuesday, May 4, you can do good while shopping for some of the finest goods around as North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center hosts “Care for Kids: Spring Shopping Spree.” Many of Roslyn Village’s best stores will be donating a portion of the day’s proceeds to the Guidance Center, Long Island’s premiere children’s mental health nonprofit organization.

As of April 21, the stores participating in the event are: Jill Scherer Ltd., Katherine Tess, Shag New York and Transitions, but the Guidance Center expects the list to grow significantly leading up to the May 4 event.

Leslie Cohen, owner of Transitions, has been a Guidance Center supporter for several years.
“The organization is easy to get behind and support, especially this year, with so many children being affected by the pandemic,” Cohen said. “Having a safe place to help the children cope is wonderful.”
She added that the Spring Shopping Spree will be “a feel-good day.”

According to Ann Corn, owner of Shag New York, nothing is more important than the health of our children.
“Mental health issues do not discriminate by race or financial backgrounds,” she said. “Shag is especially proud to be part of this fantastic fundraising day for the Guidance Center. We are honored to be involved with this amazing organization.”

Alexis Siegel, a member of the Guidance Center’s Board of Directors, expressed the agency’s gratitude for the generosity of participating Roslyn store owners.
“We are all so lucky to live in an area where our businesses and community members are so philanthropic,” Siegel said. “They understand the importance of supporting our work to bring hope and healing to kids and families who are struggling with issues such as depression and anxiety during these incredibly challenging times.”
Shoppers can visit the Guidance Center booth outside of Shag to take part in a raffle that will include many exclusive items.
For more information about the event, contact the Guidance Center at 516-626-1971, ext. 320.

Celebrating the Holidays During the pandemic, Anton Media, Dec. 28 2020

Celebrating the Holidays During the pandemic, Anton Media, Dec. 28 2020

The holiday season is fully upon us, but this year’s celebrations will be unlike any we’ve ever experienced. Typically, our calendars are full of events, whether they are parties with colleagues or friends, visits with the kids to meet Santa, festive holiday concerts or a variety of other joyous occasions. But with the pandemic surging, many of these well-loved traditions have been canceled.

It’s been a very difficult and unprecedented time in our history. People are tired of being cooped up at home; they’re exhausted from feeling afraid. They miss being with friends and family. Bottom line: We all want our “normal” lives back—a perfectly understandable desire, especially this time of year.

While the pandemic and all the uncertainty has been extremely taxing on all of us, it’s even harder on our children. No birthday parties, graduations, proms, playdates or vacations. Worries about the health of their loved ones. Difficulty adapting to remote schooling. Financial insecurity. And around the holidays, the loss of family gatherings. It’s a lot of trauma for youngsters to handle.

The good news is, as a parent or caregiver, you can take some concrete steps to help your kids cope with the losses and changes we face this season.
First, be sure to plan ahead for the holidays as a family so that you don’t have a sense of anxiety looming. Give everyone the chance to have input into the agenda, so they can become comfortable with the plans and work out their feelings. In a world that seems so unpredictable, let them know what they can count on.

Each family has its own comfort level in terms of what they deem safe and acceptable. When you, as the adult, have made those decisions, convey that plan to your children—for example, we can visit outdoors with Grandma and Grandpa, but only if we wear our masks and stay six feet apart. Knowing the rules is important, especially since other families may have rules that are different from your own.

Recognize that your kids are likely to feel sad, angry and disappointed, and let them express those emotions. If they tell you some form of “This isn’t fair!” or “This stinks!” acknowledge that those feelings are normal and even healthy.

Also, while your parental instinct may be to focus on “fixing” the problem, that often isn’t what your children need. Instead, focus on listening, validating and empathizing with them. This is also a good opportunity for you to model appropriate expression of feelings and healthy coping skills.

Schedule some Zoom time with the relatives and friends you cannot be with in person this year. Of course, it’s not a replacement for a real hug, but it does allow for a genuine connection with the people your children love.
While many of our family traditions are on hold, this is a great time to create some new ones. Ask your kids for suggestions on new activities so they’ll feel a sense of ownership of the day. Some possibilities: A family hike, new board game or a classic like charades, holiday crafts, photo albums, karaoke or baking for neighbors.

Final thought: While your children are experiencing a sense of loss, it may help them feel better to do something that helps others. Perhaps they can choose a charity to give their loose change to or make handmade thank you lawn signs or cards for frontline responders.

Wishing you and yours a happy, safe and healthy holiday season.

Dr. Sue Cohen is the Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis or in person when deemed necessary. Call 516-626-1971 to make an appointment.

Cooling Relief For Westbury Families, Anton Media, September 29, 2020

Cooling Relief For Westbury Families, Anton Media, September 29, 2020

Seven families in the Westbury/New Cassel community have weathered the heat waves this summer, thanks to some devoted North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center supporters.

Two of the women behind this effort—Dr. Betty Hylton and Marian Williams—are longtime members of the Leeds Place Advisory Council, and also members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Pi Pi Omega chapter. Since 1987, the women of Pi Pi Omega have been helping the Westbury/New Cassel community in numerous ways, and the Guidance Center and its clients have been among the beneficiaries of their generosity.

Hylton reached out to the Guidance Center’s Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust asking how Pi Pi Omega could help. Taylor-Walthrust immediately thought of the seniors who take part in C-GRASP, the Guidance Center’s Caregiver Grandparent Respite and Support Program, which provides support to grandparents who are the primary caregivers of their grandchildren. The program is a partnership with Project Independence from the Town of North Hempstead’s Department of Services for the Aging, which serves seniors through the township.

“I was concerned because many of the seniors sought relief during the hot summers at the Yes We Can Community Center, but with the coronavirus, they had no place to shelter,” said Taylor-Walthrust, who identified seven families in need.

Dr. Hylton suggested she call Marian Williams.

“I asked if the Pi Pi Omega chapter could buy fans for them, but Marian said, ‘Why don’t we get them air conditioners?’ ” Taylor-Walthrust related.

The Pi Pi Omega chapter only had enough money to purchase three new air conditioners, but Williams, along with her daughter and son-in-law, bought the four remaining air conditioners to ensure everyone’s comfort and safety.

“When I woke up the morning we were delivering the three air conditioners, I thought about the heat wave and how these four other families really needed them,” says Williams. “As a former social worker, my passion all my life is to help those in need, so I couldn’t let anyone be left out. When you are blessed, you need to bless other people.”

Sorority sister Elvira Daniels also was instrumental in the effort.

Marie Dextra, a Guidance Center C-GRASP client, says the donation of the air conditioner is making a big difference in her family’s life.

“All of us are now able to sleep better at night,” Dextra said. “I’m so thankful to all the people who made this happen.”

—Submitted by the North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center

Guidance Center Launches Suicide Prevention Project, Sept. 1, 2020

Guidance Center Launches Suicide Prevention Project, Sept. 1, 2020

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is pleased to announce that the nonprofit organization received a Community Development Block Grant from Nassau County for $147,500 to support its work serving Long Island’s communities during the pandemic crisis.

“During this most troubling and stressful time for so many families of all backgrounds, we are grateful to Nassau County for awarding us a Community Development Block Grant COVID grant,” said Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center. “It could not have come at a better time. We are seeing an increase in young people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, are at risk for suicide and other self-harming behaviors, and cannot afford to be placed on a waiting list. This funding supports our ability to offer a rapid response and quality mental health care for all families who need us regardless of their ability to pay.”

Nassau County distributed nearly $2.5 million in federal CDBG-COVID funding to 12 non-profit partners and nine municipalities across Nassau County to provide mental health and substance abuse services, youth and senior services, and health, safety, and accessibility upgrades for local community centers.

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island, is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, August 18, 2020

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, August 18, 2020

The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center is pleased to announce that the nonprofit organization received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from Nassau County for $147,500 to support its work serving Long Island’s communities during the pandemic crisis.

“During this most troubling and stressful time for so many families of all backgrounds, we are grateful to Nassau County for awarding us a Community Development Block Grant COVID grant,” Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center, said. “It could not have come at a better time. We are seeing an increase in young people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, are at risk for suicide and other self-harming behaviors, and cannot afford to be placed on a waiting list. This funding supports our ability to offer a rapid response and quality mental health care for all families who need us regardless of their ability to pay.”

Nassau County distributed nearly $2.5 million in federal CDBG-COVID funding to 12 nonprofit partners and nine municipalities across Nassau County to provide mental health and substance abuse services, youth and senior services, and health, safety, and accessibility upgrades for local community centers.

North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island, is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.

Celebrating the Holidays During the pandemic, Anton Media, Dec. 28 2020

Powering Through an Outage, Parenting Plus, by Sue Cohen, August 17, 2020

On Tuesday, Aug.p 4, heavy wind and rain from Tropical Storm Isaias hit much of the east coast. More than 2 million customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost power as a result of the storm’s impact. One week later, some are still in the dark.

While power outages are always frustrating, the situation was made much more difficult with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of people are working from home and are dependent on their power, WiFi and phone services to be able to do so. With the cancellation of many summer programs and activities, lots of kids are bored at home already, and without power, they lose much of the entertainment they rely on so heavily.

As Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, I’ve seen how COVID-19 and social distancing protocols have reduced or even eliminated many opportunities for respite, such as staying at the home of a friend or relative who has power. All your usual options that can help in an outage aren’t necessarily there.

It is crucial that parents do their best to remain calm, as your children will model their own behavior from you. When you lose it, they will do the same—and, fortunately, the opposite is true, too.

Before the next outage hits, take preventative actions by creating power outage kits for the entire family. These should include necessities such as flashlights, batteries, nonperishable food and water, but also off-the-grid activities for the family to participate in together. In our digital world, it is especially important for children to find engaging activities that do not take place on a screen. Power outages provide an opportunity to introduce these experiences to your children and remind them of the need to disconnect every so often.

Though it can be hard to find anything positive that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have mastered the act of improvisation. For months, they’ve learned how to entertain anxious children and navigate uncertainty. While power outages can be difficult, they offer yet another opportunity to spend quality time with your children and to explore new activities.

Parents need to take a step back and try to think outside of the box. Power outages have provided the foundation for some of my most treasured memories. One time, my daughter wanted to bake cookies, but due to the power outage, she attempted to make them on a pancake griddle. Though the cookies may not have turned out as good as usual, the memory is one that always brings a smile.

Parents should also attempt to find the positive in this situation. Just as your children should try different, off-the-grid activities, you should do the same. It’s easy to slip back into the

smartphone-focused world we usually live in. Use this opportunity to establish small habits such as daily reading or writing time or meditation exercises that can bring calm to your day.

Younger children may enjoy hands-on activities such as making crafts, going on a scavenger hunt, putting on a puppet show or playing dress up. Older children can get lost in a book, engage in healthy competition in a board game or learn card games.

No matter the season, power outages are difficult for families to deal with, but when they occur alongside a pandemic and a heat wave, they are even more challenging. However, this experience may serve as a teaching moment for parents and kids to learn the benefits of unplugging and finding enjoyment in the simple things in life.

Dr. Sue Cohen is the Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971.

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, August 18, 2020

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, Anton Media, August 18, 2020

The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center is pleased to announce that the nonprofit organization received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from Nassau County for $147,500 to support its work serving Long Island’s communities during the pandemic crisis.

“During this most troubling and stressful time for so many families of all backgrounds, we are grateful to Nassau County for awarding us a Community Development Block Grant COVID grant,” Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center, said. “It could not have come at a better time. We are seeing an increase in young people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, are at risk for suicide and other self-harming behaviors, and cannot afford to be placed on a waiting list. This funding supports our ability to offer a rapid response and quality mental health care for all families who need us regardless of their ability to pay.”

Nassau County distributed nearly $2.5 million in federal CDBG-COVID funding to 12 nonprofit partners and nine municipalities across Nassau County to provide mental health and substance abuse services, youth and senior services, and health, safety, and accessibility upgrades for local community centers.

North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island, is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.

Powering Through an Outage, By Dr. Sue Cohen, Anton Media, August 17, 2020

Powering Through an Outage, By Dr. Sue Cohen, Anton Media, August 17, 2020

On Tuesday, August 4, heavy wind and rain from Tropical Storm Isaias hit much of the east coast. More than 2 million customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost power as a result of the storm’s impact. One week later, some are still in the dark.

While power outages are always frustrating, the situation was made much more difficult with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of people are working from home and are dependent on their power, WiFi and phone services to be able to do so. With the cancellation of many summer programs and activities, lots of kids are bored at home already, and without power, they lose much of the entertainment they rely on so heavily.

As Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, I’ve seen how COVID-19 and social distancing protocols have reduced or even eliminated many opportunities for respite, such as staying at the home of a friend or relative who has power. All your usual options that can help in an outage aren’t necessarily there.

It is crucial that parents do their best to remain calm, as your children will model their own behavior from you. When you lose it, they will do the same—and, fortunately, the opposite is true, too.

Before the next outage hits, take preventative actions by creating power outage kits for the entire family. These should include necessities such as flashlights, batteries, nonperishable food and water, but also off-the-grid activities for the family to participate in together. In our digital world, it is especially important for children to find engaging activities that do not take place on a screen. Power outages provide an opportunity to introduce these experiences to your children and remind them of the need to disconnect every so often.

Though it can be hard to find anything positive that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have mastered the act of improvisation. For months, they’ve learned how to entertain anxious children and navigate uncertainty. While power outages can be difficult, they offer yet another opportunity to spend quality time with your children and to explore new activities.

Parents need to take a step back and try to think outside of the box. Power outages have provided the foundation for some of my most treasured memories. One time, my daughter wanted to bake cookies, but due to the power outage, she attempted to make them on a pancake griddle. Though the cookies may not have turned out as good as usual, the memory is one that always brings a smile.

Parents should also attempt to find the positive in this situation. Just as your children should try different, off-the-grid activities, you should do the same. It’s easy to slip back into the smartphone-focused world we usually live in. Use this opportunity to establish small habits such as daily reading or writing time or meditation exercises that can bring calm to your day.

Younger children may enjoy hands-on activities such as making crafts, going on a scavenger hunt, putting on a puppet show or playing dress up. Older children can get lost in a book, engage in healthy competition in a board game or learn card games.

No matter the season, power outages are difficult for families to deal with, but when they occur alongside a pandemic and a heat wave, they are even more challenging. However, this experience may serve as a teaching moment for parents and kids to learn the benefits of unplugging and finding enjoyment in the simple things in life.

Dr. Sue Cohen is the Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971.

Greentblatt, Zitelli Join Guidance Center Board, Anton Media, June 19, 2020

Greentblatt, Zitelli Join Guidance Center Board, Anton Media, June 19, 2020

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center has two new members on its Board of Directors: Nassau County residents Jeffrey Greenblatt and Jacklyn A. Zitelli.

Jeffrey Greenblatt, who co-chaired the Guidance Center’s Trivia Night fundraiser this year, is Assistant Regulatory Counsel at PSEG Long Island. He received his J.D. from St. John’s and his B.A. from the University of Michigan. 

“Long Island is a special place,” said Greenblatt, who lives in Syosset with his wife Jaclyn and three daughters, Hayley, Harper and Taylor. “It’s where I grew up, work and raise my family. I always feel good anytime I’m able to give back to the local community. That’s why it’s such an easy decision to join during tough times like these and support an agency like the Guidance Center now and in the future.”

Zitelli, counsel in Farrell Fritz’s real estate practice group, is a resident of Jericho, where she lives with her husband Michael and two children. She earned her J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law and her B.A. from Syracuse University. 

“It is an honor to join such a great organization and to support its important mission,” said Zitelli. “I believe that children and families gain invaluable experiences from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center throughout every stage of life. I’ve been appreciative of the services and programs offered through the Guidance Center for many years and am enthusiastic about now being able to directly contribute to its initiatives as a board member.”

Board President Paul Vitale is excited to welcome Greenblatt and Zitelli to the Guidance Center team. “Jeffrey did a great job getting a big crowd out for a fun experience at Trivia Night, and both his and Jacklyn’s energy and passion for our mission will be a huge asset as we navigate these challenging times.”

To learn more about North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s preeminent children’s mental health agency, please call (516) 626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

Lesson from the Past Can Help Us Now, by Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, May 27, 2020

Lesson from the Past Can Help Us Now, by Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, May 27, 2020

When I was 10 years old, I discovered a thick folder in a box at my home in New Jersey. I twirled the string that held the flap secure and pulled out the contents—a cache of newspaper articles dating back to the mid-1930s. The articles were from the Newark Star Ledger and the Newark Evening News

As I sifted through the news clippings, they all had one thing in common: They were about my father and his days as a high school athlete in Newark. 

When I asked him where they came from, he replied, “Oh, your grandmother cut them out of the newspaper.” My grandmother Jennie was an immigrant from the part of Russia now known as Belarus. She and my grandfather Joseph came to the U.S. sometime around the early 1900s. Neither one spoke English at the time, only Yiddish. 

I’m sure my grandparents knew next to nothing about American sports, but somehow my grandmother knew that her son was doing something noteworthy if his name was always in the newspaper. 

To attest to their lack of knowledge about football, years later I learned that when my grandfather—a carpenter whom I called Pop—went to his first game and saw my father’s youngest brother get gang tackled, he ran onto the field and started throwing the opposing team’s players off the pile to free his son. 

I had known that my father was an athlete in his younger years, but I knew none of the details that the treasure trove of news clips revealed. One in particular came to mind almost as soon as the Coronavirus pandemic led to “sheltering-in.”

Back when I first found the articles, I spent months carefully trimming them and using Elmer’s glue to paste them into a scrapbook that I’ve kept until this day. Today, talk of quarantine led me to dig it up. 

As I flipped through the pages, I found an article with this long headline: Test Guard After Brother Gets Scarlet Fever. Streaks Minus Star, Meet St. Benedict Prep’s Gray Bee. Ace’s Return Hinges On Condition. My father Izzy was a guard on the basketball team. 

The article, written by someone named Frank J. Fagan, went on to state: “The chances of South Side High School’s Sun Streaks in the state basketball tournament grew dimmer today when it became known that Izzy Malekoff, star guard, may be lost to the squad for the remainder of the season. Albert Malekoff, the South Side player’s younger brother, was taken down with Scarlet Fever on Saturday. Izzy immediately took up quarters with a teammate who lives near him.”

Fagan went on to write, “The Board of Health, however, has quarantined Izzy, who is to take a test today to discover if the fever germs have invaded his system . . . If it is found that the schoolboy athlete has contracted the germ, he will not be allowed to return to school for a month.”

Back in those days, signs were posted on homes of those who were infected that read:  “Quarantine Scarlet Fever. No one shall enter or leave these premises except as provided by the State Department of Health or Local Board of Health.”

Although I have not done an exhaustive study on scarlet fever, what I learned is that there is no vaccine; recommended prevention includes frequent handwashing, not sharing personal items and staying away from other people when infected. I couldn’t find anything about six feet or wearing masks.

In the early 1900s, before antibiotics were available, it was a leading cause of death in children. Can you imagine if that was true in today’s Covid-19 pandemic? Perhaps some of our fellow Americans who appear to think older people are expendable would think twice. 

In case you’re wondering, for some reason at the time I never asked my father how it all turned out. The story left my mind after first reading it. 

Until now. 

Andrew Malekoff is the Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.

A Quarantine Trendsetter, By Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, April 13, 2020

A Quarantine Trendsetter, By Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, April 13, 2020

In my February column, I wrote about the fact that I had a stem cell transplant in early December 2019, about a month before I heard for the first time about the coronavirus.

The transplant entailed getting an unrelated donor’s stem cells to replace mine; then, if all went according to plan, these cells would grow into a new immune system to seek and destroy my cancer cells.

As a result of the transplant, all of my childhood vaccinations became ineffective. I was instructed to stay in isolation for at least four months in order to avoid infectious and possibly deadly diseases like influenza. Consequently, I have been quarantined since December. 

Just a day before writing this, a friend told me that I’m a “trendsetter.”

I knew very little about viruses before the coronavirus came along—only that they were microscopic infectious organisms that invade living cells and then reproduce. In an effort to review what I had been (mostly unconsciously) protected from before transplant, I Googled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found a piece entitled, “Vaccines for children: Diseases you almost forgot about.”

I was reminded that most of us had vaccines as children for some of the nastiest viruses, including polio, which invades the brain and spinal cord and leads to paralysis; tetanus, a potentially fatal disease that causes lockjaw; whooping cough, which can lead to violent coughing that makes it difficult to breathe; and many more.

Most older adults are familiar with chicken pox, mumps and measles. I had two of them as a young teenager. One that I forgot about is diphtheria, which affects breathing or swallowing and can lead to heart failure, paralysis and death. There are several more.

I imagined the panic that parents must have felt and the pain that young children must have experienced before vaccines were discovered to prevent these horrible infectious diseases.

For the time being, I cannot replace my old vaccines. I must wait for at least one year while my new immune system gets stronger.

The idea of being in isolation and maintaining a safe social distance for a few months post-transplant made sense to me. I was well prepared by doctors and nurses and I knew my wife would be a great caregiver, so I thought I could do the time.

And then, the coronavirus came along. 

For me, being quarantined was an old hat by the time a national emergency was declared and everything started to shut down. I learned that this new virus’ main target was the lungs and people older than 60 years with underlying health conditions were its primary targets.

I fit the bill and knew that I’d have to do more time: at least another three months, my transplant doctor told me. The only difference is that this time, hundreds of millions of people would be joining me.

I was well-prepared before and after my transplant. I knew why I had to self-isolate and for how long. No one, including me, was prepared for COVID-19 and the mass quarantine that it now requires—not only to protect oneself and one’s family, but also to protect strangers. Mostly older strangers like me.

Scientists and other health professionals were the heroes of viral epidemics gone by. I do believe we will get through this, with people like immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci leading the way.

Still, the unknown is what is most frightening. We all want answers, yet some remain illusive at the moment. This is an opportunity for all of us to strengthen our tolerance for ambiguity.

When will this end? No clue. Will it come back? No idea.

Although my new immune system needs more time to protect me, I just found out after a PET scan that I’m in complete remission from my cancer.

Will it come back? No idea.

We are all in the same boat, living in uncertainty, whether young or old, healthy or unwell. As Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center. To find out more, call 516-626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

Strength In Diversity, By Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, February 16, 2020

Strength In Diversity, By Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, February 16, 2020

In my August 2019 column titled “Thank You,” I expressed my gratitude for the cancer researchers and practitioners who have been instrumental in getting me through the last 10 years of my life. As I explained, my cancer was responsive to treatment, but it was persistent and kept reemerging.

Since that piece was published, it was determined by my “team” that I was eligible for an allogeneic stem cell transplant, which meant getting someone else’s stem cells to help rebuild my immune system. Although this is a risky treatment, it does offer the possibility of a cure, which routine chemotherapy and immunotherapy do not, at least not for my type of blood cancer.

The team thought that given my age and overall good health and fitness, this was the best window within which to proceed. After considering all of the information with my family, I agreed.

The transplant was scheduled for December and required that the hospital find a non-related donor. I was fortunate enough that a stranger was discovered through the donor registry.

I spent three mostly difficult weeks in the hospital. The first phase was “conditioning,” in which I received high doses of chemotherapy and total body irradiation. Next came the transplant. The final and longest phase, which I am in now, is recovery. There is the risk of “graft versus host disease”– the possibility of the new cells not only attacking the cancer, but other organs in my body—which is part of what recovery aims to prevent.

Currently, I am vulnerable to many ailments and illnesses as I have the immune system of a newborn baby. It will become stronger over time, and eventually I will receive all of the childhood immunizations, which are now rendered useless.

This is all background that leads to what I really want to talk to you about: my experience with the personnel involved in the transplant.

The three nurses depicted in the photo, along with an attending physician (not pictured), presided over my stem cell transplant on Dec. 12, 2019, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Some consider transplant day to be a new birthday. So now, I have two. I don’t know the identity of my donor, although there is a process in which I can communicate with that person to thank him or her directly if I so choose, in due time.

Obviously, as the photo reveals, the nurses are a diverse group. At the time of transplant, I asked them a little about themselves. Among the three nurses are a Muslim, Christian and Buddhist. The attending physician is Hindu. I am Jewish. There are racial and ethnic differences as well.

I teared when I said, “With all that is happening in the world, all of the hate, you represent the truth about the value of diversity.”

With their permission, I snapped this photo with my cell phone from my hospital bed. Amid the rampant and unrelenting stories of hate, this is a graphic reminder that diversity is our strength.

We cannot afford to squander it.

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

Guidance Center Responds to Coronavirus Crisis, By Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, April 22, 2020

As the Coronavirus pandemic has come to dominate a good deal of our daily lives, are we, as Dr. Suzan Song suggests in U.S. News and World Report, “on the brink of a mental health pandemic that our current system is not equipped to handle?”

Recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost half of U.S. adults said the pandemic has affected their mental health, while more than half believed that they would be exposed to COVID-19 because they could not afford to stay at home financially.

At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, where we work with children, teens and their families, we’ve made the transition from face-to-face office, home and school-based visits to remote video conferencing sessions. Although we didn’t formally poll the families we work with, judging by feedback from our therapists, the mental health impacts of COVID-19 are pervasive.

Most of the children we see haven’t come to us because of COVID-19 fears, although we are starting to get referrals specifically related to the pandemic. Nevertheless, everyone we see is impacted by it. The problems that they came to us for in the first place—most often depression and anxiety—are exacerbated by the fear and uncertainty that the Coronavirus brings.

Many of our recent referrals come to us from urgent care or as the result of hospital  discharges. Along with depression and anxiety, some are also experiencing panic attacks, crying spells, passive suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm.

As one of our therapists reported:  “Using Zoom video conferencing sessions to navigate family therapy has given me the opportunity to remain connected with the family while working with them virtually to discuss ways they can practice and implement better communication skills. Zoom sessions have also allowed me to work with my client individually to review and practice coping skills she can utilize when experiencing low moods.”

The challenges brought on by the pandemic are significant. Kids don’t know when they will return to school and, for many, when their moms and dads will return to work. Being in close quarters with their family 24/7 can feel like a pressure cooker, particularly when the stress of isolation from friends, economic worries at home and terror about  the possibility of a loved one becoming ill and dying are constantly at play. 

It’s fairly common knowledge that as many as one in five Americans experiences some form of mental illness, and the pandemic has greatly escalated their symptoms. As Dr. Song stated, “In my psychiatry practice, some of my college-aged patients who were previously able to manage their depression and anxiety are crippled in paralyzing fear of going outside, or depressed about the loss of their year and uncertain of their future.”

The Guidance Center’s seamless transition from in-person to virtual practice has made a significant difference for our families. When all feels like it is being lost with the limits that the shutdown has exacted, being able to maintain the routine of mental health counseling was a great relief. Parents have expressed gratitude for the continuity and for knowing that we have not abandoned them. 

Of course, we can only do what we are doing  because we have the technology to do so. And, as Dr. Song affirmed, “Prior to the pandemic, telehealth was not always covered by insurance; restrictions have temporarily been lifted for many, but need to continue post-pandemic.”

At the same time the nation’s mental health is declining due to the pandemic, the number of mental health professionals accepting insurance—and particularly psychiatrists—remains low due to the substandard rates of reimbursement that health insurers pay. 

Federal mental health parity law demands universal access to care, yet health insurers rarely comply by providing adequate networks of providers, and government does not adequately enforce this law. 

During this uncertain time, now more than ever we need to ensure universal access to care in order to flatten the mental health curve for our children and families.  

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.

“A Visit with Rusty,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, December 19, 2019

From time to time, North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center has used animal assisted therapy (AAT) in its mental health treatment programs with children and teens, working in partnership with local canine and equine organizations.

In animal assisted groups, the therapist works closely with the animal handler or trainer. Think of the handler as an interpreter who teaches about the animal. The handler loves to talk about the personality of the animal and its unique qualities. They can humanize how the animals “speak” and keep appropriate boundaries.

Although using dogs is a little easier to arrange logistically speaking, there are a growing number of settings that offer equine facilitated therapy. Following is an illustration of animal assisted therapy using horses that helped build social skills and self confidence in a group of young teenagers who were identified as painfully shy or socially awkward.

After they arrived at the stables, the girls and boys sat around a table. Group work with horses mostly entails ground activities. Sitting on or riding the horses is the exception.
The horses were led outside and the group members were asked, “How do the horses welcome each other? How did they say hi?” Or “Look at Rusty: he looks like he is trying to get away from the others. Why do you think that is?” This opened the door for humor, as one of the more quiet boys said, “Maybe he has B.O. or bad breath.”

The handler then said, “Oh, did you see that? Rusty tried to kick that horse. Why do you think he did that?” This led the way to some discussions about anger and aggression.

In time the process became a little more sophisticated—for example, when the teens were asked, “How do the horses communicate?” The group could see that horses are powerful animals. The handler taught them that horses are prey animals that are always on the lookout. They learned that these majestic animals are instinctual and that they don’t see straight ahead but side to side, thus the rule to always stay on their side. (And, similarly, when a group is working with canine therapy, they learn not to look a dog in the eye because he can take it as aggression.)

The handler said, “See, you stay on their side because horses look side to side to scan the horizon.” Later, they learned that approaching and petting animals is a lesson in respecting one’s boundaries.

It was all about observation and metaphor, helping the young people build their observational muscles and reflect on what they saw and sensed. The activities were both direct and yet metaphorical in nature.

After a while the group members were asked, “Which horse do you want to spend some time with and why?” One group member said, “I’ll take Rusty; he’s a little shy but I think he is a tough horse and nobody’s gonna mess with him.”

Some of the teens we work with are immigrants from Central America, who escaped treacherous circumstances, and being with the horses brought back fond memories and staked a little claim to fame for them in the group. For example, Maria shared, “I know something about this. My family has horses. That one over there looks sad.”

The handler then talked about the “sad” horse’s history. Many of the horses were adopted and/or donated. This piqued the kids’ interest as the horse’s experience became a metaphor for their own dislocations and transitions. These issues were explored in a subtle, sensitive manner whereby the participants could project their feelings and experiences on the horses in an emotionally safe way.

By working with horses or dogs, children and teens learn many lessons, among them the importance of expressing their emotions, the ability to bond (both with the animal and with the other kids) and ways to keep calm and decrease stress. It’s a profound experience that can have lasting positive effects.

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To learn more about the Guidance Center’s innovative programs, call 516-626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

“Ask the Question,” By Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, November 11, 2019

“Ask the Question,” By Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, November 11, 2019

If my count is accurate, I was one of just three men (aside from the tech guy) who attended the Maternal Mental Health Conference on Oct. 2, at the Morrelly Conference Center in Bethpage. Yet the message of this conference was as germane for men—fathers, brothers, grandfathers and coworkers—as it was for mothers.

The conference was led by a terrific panel of health professionals, health educators and advocates. In the comments to follow, I will not cite any one in particular but I credit all five—Pauline Walfisch, Dr. Ariela Frieder, Vanessa McMullan, Sonia Murdoch and Phyllis Kaufman—who are all champions for pregnant and parenting moms.

We must begin with understanding the false ideal imposed upon many new moms. The ideal is that when a woman becomes pregnant, delivers a child and becomes a mother who cares for that child, everything is supposed to perfect.

Undoubtedly, some moms are able to acknowledge that being a mother is messy. They can adjust their sights, recognize that the ideal of perfection is a fantasy and adjust to the new reality of their lives. Naturally, it helps enormously to have the consistent support and understanding of their partner, family members and friends.

For some moms, though, messiness is harder to tolerate, especially when they experience what used to be known exclusively as postpartum depression and is now known as perinatal mood or anxiety disorders (PMADs for short). The latter term broadens the focus by recognizing that depression can occur during pregnancy as well as after giving birth, and that anxiety may also be a part of the picture. In other words, postpartum depression, the term most well-known by the lay public, is just one type of PMAD.

It is important here to pause and explain the difference between baby blues and clinical depression. The term baby blues represents the normal and characteristically mild ups and downs that new moms might experience for a few weeks after giving birth. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, can be the result of a confluence of stressors including the shifting of reproductive hormones following the delivery, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, isolation, inadequate partner support, poverty and health issues of mom or baby, for example.

When you couple all this with the myth of perfect maternal bliss, the result is that many moms living with PMADs suffer in silence. Anything other than 100 percent perfection evokes feelings of stigma and shame.

Some mothers who are clinically depressed live with the belief that they should just “suck it up.” Others are advised to “pray it away.” Moms are very hard on themselves; they can begin to feel hopeless and harbor the feeling that things will never get better.

The good news is that there is help. The better news is that you can help. As one of the panelists advised, just ask the question. In other words, ask how mom is doing. The focus is most often on how the baby is doing, totally disregarding the mom, which just reinforces the idea that moms should be happy, holding their own and thrilled to be a new mother.

Whether you are a partner, parent, friend or colleague—female or male—asking the question is the first step toward eliminating stigma and shame. It can make all the difference in the world for a new mom who is suffering in silence. Ask the question.

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. To find out more, including information about the Guidance Center’s Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program, call 516-626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

“Make Your Voice Heard,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, Oct 16-22, 2019

“Make Your Voice Heard,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media, Oct 16-22, 2019

As young people all across the U.S. reach their 18th birthdays, they will become eligible to vote in their first presidential election in 2020. It’s shaping up to be a record turnout ever since the vote went to 18-year-olds in 1972, after the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

Although the law was written to prevent government from denying a citizen who is at least 18 years old the right to vote, a number of state governments have found a way to do just that—and not only to 18-year-olds, but anyone who they think might vote against a favored candidate or proposition.

In a June 13, 2019, report for The Atlantic, writer Ron Brownstein cited Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who specializes in voting behavior. McDonald stated that the greatest increase in eligible voters comes from “young people who turn 18 and immigrants who become citizens.”

The increase in eligible voters doesn’t necessarily determine how many of them vote. Who shows up to vote does. And who is turned away doesn’t.

In recent years, there has been a fair amount of political bluster about rampant voter fraud, which has not been substantiated except in a miniscule number of individual instances. What has been well-documented historically, however, is voter suppression to prevent or discourage particular groups of people from voting. Many tactics are used to disenfranchise voters from casting ballots that range from inconveniencing voters to physically intimidating them.

For example, Jim Crow laws were passed in southern states after the Civil War to suppress poor and racial minority voters. Such laws were made illegal after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nevertheless, in 2013 the Supreme Court decided to eliminate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act; the loss of Section 4, it has been argued, results in voter suppression among African-Americans. In the intervening years more than 1,000 polling places were closed that were in close proximity to where many African-American eligible voters live.

In 2014, attorneys for seven college students argued in a North Carolina case that a voter ID law suppresses the youth vote. According to an ABA Journal report by Debra Cassens Weiss on July 18, 2014, “The North Carolina law at issue eliminated same-day registration, shortened the period for early voting, and eliminated a program that allowed teens to fill out registration forms that took effect on their 18th birthday. A photo ID [would be required] but student IDs won’t be accepted and neither will out-of-state driver’s licenses, in most cases.”

The next presidential election will be held Nov. 3, 2020. If you are a teenager who has or will become eligible to vote before that time, it is important that you register to vote and know your rights.

Depending on where you live, you can become eligible to cast a ballot in all state and federal elections when you reach 18. Check out www.usa.gov/voter-registration-age-requirements for age requirements by state. Another good resource regarding voting rights is the League of Women Voters (www.lwv.org) whose mission is: Empowering voters. Defending democracy.

Your vote counts. Get registered and use it.

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, call 516-626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

“Greta,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton/Long Island Weekly, October 1, 2019

“Greta,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton/Long Island Weekly, October 1, 2019

16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (Photo source: Greta Thunberg Facebook)

On Sept. 18, I listened to Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who testified before a U.S. Congressional hearing on climate change. Her message was brief and then she answered questions along with a number of fellow youth climate activists.

She told the congressional members that she had no prepared remarks and, instead, was leaving them with written testimony. She said, “I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists. And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take real action.”

Nevertheless, four months earlier she did offer more extensive remarks to the British Parliament. Here, in part, is what she said:

“My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 16 years old. I come from Sweden. And I speak on behalf of future generations. I know many of you don’t want to listen to us—you say we are just children. But we’re only repeating the message of the united climate science.

“Many of you appear concerned that we are wasting valuable lesson time, but I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?

“In the year 2030, I will be 26 years old. My little sister Beata will be 23. Just like many of your own children or grandchildren. That is a great age, we have been told. When you have all of your life ahead of you. But I am not so sure it will be that great for us.

“I was fortunate to be born in a time and place where everyone told us to dream big; I could become whatever I wanted to. I could live wherever I wanted to. People like me had everything we needed and more. Things our grandparents could not even dream of. We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing.

“Now we probably don’t even have a future any more.

“Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit and that you only live once.

“You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late. And yet we are the lucky ones. Those who will be affected the hardest are already suffering the consequences. But their voices are not heard.”

Greta went on to offer more specific information about reductions in greenhouse gases including methane gas escaping from rapidly thawing arctic permafrost. A note of clarification: When methane leaks into the air before being used it absorbs the sun’s heat, warming the atmosphere. If you would like more scientific detail you can read Greta’s full remarks to Parliament by clicking the link provided at the bottom of this column.

Greta concluded her remarks by stating, “We children are not sacrificing our education and our childhood for you to tell us what you consider is politically possible in the society that you have created. We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.

“We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.

“I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me.”
Just as Greta wanted Congress to listen to the scientists, I would like you to listen to her.

To read Greta Thunberg’s full testimony to Parliament, visit www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/23/greta-thunberg-full-speech-to-mps-you-did-not-act-in-time.

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To learn more about the Guidance Center’s innovative programs, call 516-626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

“Tapping the Power of Youth,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media

“Tapping the Power of Youth,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton Media

The headline read: “Student activists prevail.” It was a story by Joie Tyrell published earlier this year that told the tale of a group of high school students who were researching the international issue of access to feminine hygiene products.

In their research, the teenage girls found that New York State legislation called for the provision of feminine hygiene products in the restrooms of all school buildings at no charge to students. Yet the Lindenhurst High School girls found that in their school such products were only available in the nurse’s office.

The girls addressed the issue with a school administrator and district officials. The authorities responded to the girls’ advocacy and the situation was remedied.

Some years ago, I worked in a high school where I encountered a situation that also involved a high school bathroom. In this case the problem was the fact that there were no doors on the stalls in the boy’s bathroom.

A group of boys, who were members of a school-based mental health counseling group, raised the issue. As one of them said, “Do you think they have any idea how humiliating it is to go to the bathroom with no doors on the stalls? There’s no privacy; it’s embarrassing.”
The group decided to present their concern to school authorities. During a group meeting they rehearsed what they would say. Soon after they requested a meeting with the principal, and sometime after that their “demand” was met.

What these two stories have in common is young people identifying problems, having a vision, organizing and taking steps to ensure they receive the respect and dignity that they deserve.

As we approach the beginning of another school year, it is worth noting that young people have power and, when they exercise it and receive support, they can make a difference.
Roger A. Hart, a professor of environmental psychology, has devoted much of his life’s research to children’s development in relationship to the physical environment. To that end he created a “ladder of participation” that differentiates the degrees to which young people might initiate change.

Following is an elaboration of the ladder of participation by Adam Fletcher, an internationally recognized expert on youth and community engagement. Fletcher starts with the top rung of the ladder.

  • Young people-initiated, shared decisions with adults: Projects or programs are initiated by young people and decision-making is shared between young people and adults.
  • Young people-initiated and directed: Young people initiate and direct a project or program. Adults are involved only in a supportive role.
  • Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people: Projects or programs are initiated by adults but the decision-making is shared with the young people.
  • Consulted and informed. Young people give advice on projects or programs designed and run by adults. The young people are informed about how their input will be used and the outcomes of the decisions are made by adults.
  • Assigned but informed. Young people are assigned a specific role and informed about how and why they are being involved.
  • Tokenism. Young people appear to be given a voice, but in fact have little or no choice about what they do or how they participate.
  • Decoration. Young people are used to help or “bolster” a cause in a relatively indirect way, although adults do not pretend that the cause is inspired by young people.
  • Manipulation. Adults use young people to support causes and pretend that the causes are inspired by young people.

Understanding the ladder of participation can help those of us who care about kids to know when to lead, follow or get out of the way. In any case, making decisions that support young people becoming active participants in community affairs is a win-win, particularly when it supports them in blazing a path and making a difference in areas where we have failed.

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

“Thank You,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton/Long Island Weekly, August 24, 2019

“Thank You,” by Andrew Malekoff, Anton/Long Island Weekly, August 24, 2019

I know that I am not alone. When I write about the fact that I have cancer, it is not my intention to suggest that I am in any way unique. Although when I was first diagnosed in 2010, I did feel special, and not in a good way.

At first, I thought I had a hernia. But the surgeon said no. It took almost two months for the biopsy of the lymph node that he extracted from my body to be definitively identified. I don’t know why it took so long. They said it was a good sample. They sent it to Bethesda for further analysis. Still no answer. I then had a second biopsy.

I received the phone call from the oncologist while I was at work on a Friday afternoon nine years ago. Hearing the words was surreal. What does this mean?

In the intervening years I’ve had radiation and several rounds of combined immunotherapy and chemotherapy, all aimed at killing the bad cells and stimulating my immune system. That is how I understand it.

I was fortunate enough to stay active—I exercised normally and hardly took a sick day, except when I had an all-day infusion. I had side effects: fatigue, constipation, rashes, neuropathy, alopecia and more. Of course, there is an emotional impact as well, particularly when death and dying are closer to consciousness than ever before.

When I was diagnosed, the first question I asked my doctor was, “Am I dead man walking?” She told me no. I was a bit self-obsessed for a period of time. I soon realized that my diagnosis had a profound impact on my family as well. Although they didn’t have to deal with the physical aspects of treatment or contend with immediate thoughts of their own mortality, caretakers and loved ones bear a burden that cannot be underestimated or ignored.

My father had cancer. He eventually died as the result of his spreading cancer invading his vital organs. My cancer is different than my father’s, but both are in the blood disease family. When he died, he was 74 years old. I slept in his hospital room for several days and watched him take his last breath.

I asked my doctor how long I could expect to live. I threw out a number and asked if I would make it that far. She said, we have lots of really good treatments.

In the intervening years, after several treatments, I learned that my cancer is not resistant to treatment, but it is persistent. In other words, it comes back much faster after treatment than they would like to see.

When I decided to write this, I didn’t want it to come across as self-indulgent. And, as I said at the top, I am not unique. When I read obituaries, I have noticed a common expression, so-and-so died after a long battle with cancer. Will my obituary say that?

Why am I writing this? It is to thank the researchers, the scientists who are hard at work discovering new treatments and cures every day—lots of really good treatments.

What I know today is that I owe the last nine years of my life to you and the health professionals who diagnose and administer care.

Thank you, one and all.

Andrew Malekoff is the Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.