In the September 2021 column that ran in Blank Slate Media, our staff responds to parents’ concerns that their son may be suicidal.
In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: We are terribly concerned about our 16-year-old son. Although he is back in school, he has little interest in his classes, and it’s difficult to get him to go to school most days. He’s decided not to try out for the basketball team, which used to be his favorite thing in the world. He’s also stopped reaching out to his friends and become very isolated. When we’ve asked him about all of this, his answer is usually a shrug of the shoulders and some version of “What’s the point, anyhow?” We are incredibly worried and not sure what to do. – Feeling Helpless
Dear Feeling Helpless: There may be no scarier words for a parent to hear from their child than “Some days I just don’t want to go on any longer,” or a similar sentiment. The reality is that children and teens are under more stress than ever, with suicidal thinking and suicide attempts on the rise – plus, the isolation and fear surrounding the pandemic has created a dramatic increase in severe depression and anxiety.
The facts are that suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24, and more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects and other diseases combined.
While the problem isn’t new, the pandemic has exacerbated it. Kids’ normal routines were upended in so many ways. They lost milestones like proms, graduations, family gatherings, sports, afterschool clubs and other activities that are important for their development. Even though many of those events have resumed, they are still living with the uncertainty that everything could change at a moment’s notice.
Here are some of the warning signs that your child or teen may be at risk of suicide:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Mood swings
- Engaging in risky or self-destructive behavior
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Changes in eating patterns
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- School refusal
- Being depressed and crying often
- Giving away possessions
- Posting suicidal thoughts on the Internet
- Talking about death and not being around anymore
- Cutting themselves
- Aggressiveness or irritability
Your first step should be talking honestly with your son about how he is feeling and communicate your concern in a loving, non-judgmental way.
Ask him directly if he has thoughts of suicide. The idea that talking about suicide will make your child more likely to act upon it is a myth. In fact, the opposite is true.
Let him know there is no shame in feeling depressed or sad and that he is not alone, especially given the unprecedented period we are experiencing.
Also ask him if he has a plan for suicide, since someone who has made a plan is at a higher risk and requires urgent attention. If the answer is yes, monitor him closely and seek immediate mental health services, either through the emergency room or an urgent mental health care facility. One option is Nassau County’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, 516-227-TALK.
It is very important that you consult a mental health professional for an assessment. Reassure your son that getting help is not a sign of weakness, but rather shows strength, and that despite his current state of mind, feelings don’t last forever. Allow him to give feedback on what he thinks might be helpful in his treatment.
Nassau County residents can contact us at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which serves young people from birth through age 24.
We promise to see urgent cases within 24 to 48 hours. If, however, you fear that he is in imminent danger, bring him to the emergency room for an immediate evaluation.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project is designed to address high-risk cases with a thorough evaluation for suicide risk, therapy and a comprehensive treatment plan. To schedule an appointment, call us at (516) 626-1971 or email email@example.com.
Half a million dollars will be distributed by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock to combat food insecurity, homelessness and educational disadvantages exacerbated by COVID-19.
The funding, in addition to $170,000 distributed last year, will go directly to 19 Long Island organizations in the form of unrestricted grants. Recipient organizations include Island Harvest, Sunnyside Community Services and others addressing a range of social needs.
Jana North, who was recently appointed president of the congregation, said she was glad to provide aid to address pandemic emergencies.
“When COVID hit, there was a very strong sense within the congregation that they wanted to try to support local organizations that were going to get hit very hard,” North said. “What we really needed to do was give a substantial amount.”
The most recent round of emergency funding was voted on by the congregation to meet immediate needs. This stands apart from the Veatch program, which awards millions of dollars a year.
“We wanted the money quickly, we wanted the money to go locally, and we wanted it to go to organizations that were doing things right now,” North said. “That brought it out of the sphere that we usually give through the Veatch program.”
In the early days of the pandemic, the congregation was awarding smaller groups of grants near $50,000. Now, the total amount of aid given by the church is closing in on $700,000.
The most recent half million in grants were awarded to organizations selected by a task force, which narrowed down a list from approximately 60 to just under 20. Those groups have set goals aligned with the congregation’s values, according to North.
The other groups that received grants were the Central American Refugee Center, Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling, Choice for All, Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities, Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, Housing Help, La Jornada, Littig House Community Center, Long Island Crisis Center, Manhasset-Great Neck Economic Opportunity Council, NAMI Queens/Nassau, New Ground, North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, OLA of Eastern LI, Queens Together, SEPA Mujer and St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Great Neck.
“These organizations are pretty well known to us and have been for years,” North said. “The grantees seem to be very pleased to get it and I was glad that we could do it.”
“We have a very active social justice group within the congregation,” North said of the Shelter Rock congregation, which is one of over 1,000 across the country.
“Since this happened, we’re sure aware of what happens when something like this affects so many nonprofits that are already teetering on the edge locally,” North said. “I do think it has made us very aware of the need and I think we’d like to be part of that answer.”
In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Centeranswer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: Our grandson’s pediatrician recently suggested his parents get him screened for autism. We’re so worried and not sure where to turn. Help!
Dear Panicked Grandparents: There are a wide range of autism spectrum disorders, also known as ASD, and many people with the condition live very happy lives. Your first step: Get educated.
Most babies start to show an interest in the world and the people around them at a very young age. By their first birthday, typical toddlers look people in the eye, copy words, play games like peek-a-boo and engage in clapping, waving hello and good-bye and other simple behaviors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with ASD—which is a complex developmental disability that manifests in many different ways and to many different degrees—may struggle with social, emotional and communication skills.
Children or adults with ASD might…
- show no interest in objects (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
- avoid eye contact
- prefer not to be held or cuddled
- appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
- repeat or echo words or phrases said to them
- have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
- have trouble adapting to changes in routine.
Other signs include a child not responding to his or her name when called; repeating actions over and over; and having highly restricted interests.
Early intervention is important, but even with older children, treatment can result in real improvements. At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we provide thorough testing and, depending on the results, will create a customized therapeutic treatment plan, which often includes social skills groups and play therapy.
Support groups for caregivers are also very helpful. In addition to parent support groups, we have a program called GASAK, which stands for Grandparent Advocates Supporting Autistic Kids.
Also, our staff includes family advocates who often get involved in the cases, helping clients get appropriate services from their schools and other providers.
The bottom line: It’s important to determine the child’s needs and come up with a good educational and therapeutic plan. Although people with ASD may face challenges, a diagnosis doesn’t mean your grandchild won’t experience feelings of love, bonding and joy. The child is still the same loving child they were before the diagnosis. It’s a condition they have, but it doesn’t have to define their life.
Question: Now that it’s safe to be with their friends, how can I convince my kids to put their phones and tech devices down?
Dear Sick of the Screens: During the height of the pandemic, many families made allowances for extra time on screens and now face resistance to reestablishing more strict limits.
No parent wants technology to rule the roost, especially if it’s making your children isolated. Remember, you have the power!
- Set aside specific times at home when no one (parents included) uses technology. Cell phones, computers, iPads—all must be off. Tech-free time can be spent reading, talking, playing games, cooking, making art… anything creative or social will do.
- Establish a clear schedule. When it comes to gaming, many parents may allow 30 minutes a day during the school week and two hours a day on the weekends.
- When possible, keep all technology in a common space like the living room — not in a child’s bedroom. Avoid allowing your kid to disappear for hours behind a closed door.
- Utilize online services that filter out inappropriate or violent material. These services can also limit Internet access by scheduling times that the Internet is available and times when it is not.
The way you use tech devices influences your ability to effectively guide your children. Although your example is not the sole factor, keep in mind that as distant as some kids become from adults as they are moving through their teen years, they continue to observe you—more closely than you know.
During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971 or email email@example.com.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center has announced that its Jonathan Krevat Memorial Golf & Tennis Classic is back this year at a spectacular new location, Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove! The event, which will be held on June 14th, raises money for the Guidance Center, Long Island’s premiere children’s mental health organization.
“Our work bringing hope and healing to kids and families is more important than ever,” said Michael Mondiello, one of the event’s co-chairs and a Guidance Center board member. “The pandemic has created enormous stress and anxiety, and we are here to help address the crisis in children’s mental health.”
Co-chair Michael Schnepper concurred, stating, “The past year has been difficult for adults, but in some ways it’s been even harder for young people. Their entire normal routines with school, friends and extracurricular activities were upended, and the impact is going to continue long after COVID-19 is behind us. That’s why this fundraiser is such a crucial event.”
The Krevat Cup is one of the Guidance Center’s most anticipated events of the year, providing a full day of activities. “Golf may be the main feature, but tennis is my game,” said Troy Slade, co-chair and board member. “And we’re adding pickleball to the event for the first time ever, so that’s going to provide even more opportunity for friendly competition.”
While all current health and safety protocols will be in place to protect the safety of guests and staff, most of the event will be held outdoors, making it a perfect opportunity to enjoy great games while benefiting an important cause. “The golf course is among Long Island’s best,” said board member Dan Oliver, this year’s newest Krevat Cup co-chair. “It’s going to be a terrific day, including a delicious breakfast, lunch and cocktail hour. I hope many community members will join us to support the life-saving work of the Guidance Center.”
The event will also feature an exclusive silent auction, which is open to everyone, regardless of whether they buy tickets for the day. Bidding begins on June 1st.
For those interested in participating, becoming a sponsor or placing a journal ad, it’s not too late! Contact Nicole Oberheim, Noberheim@northshorechildguidance.org, (516) 626-1971, ext. 337
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 4th 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,” said Cohen. “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,” said Siegel. “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.
Last week an article appeared about me in this newspaper entitled, “Guidance Center CEO announces retirement.” The average age of retirement in the US is 61. When I retire in two months I will have surpassed the average by nine years.
Among the articles I have been reading about retirement are those that offer cautionary notes and tips. For example, I learned that I should not expect retirement to feel like an endless vacation, I should structure my time and I should not neglect my appearance.
The last one will be difficult after working from home during the year of the pandemic. Although I think I’ll add a third pair of pants to the rotation and buy a couple of new sweatshirts.
With respect to structuring my time, although I am retiring after 45 years with the same organization, I have also held a part-time job for 31 years as a journal editor, which I will continue. I also plan to continue writing this column for as long as my imagination will take me and publisher Steve Blank will have me.
I never imagined retirement as an endless vacation, although living in Long Beach has always had a vacation feel to it, being within walking distance of the boardwalk and ocean. Driving home from Roslyn Heights to Long Beach on the Meadowbrook and Loop Parkway since the late 1970s offered me the benefit of landing in a resort every single day.
Despite addressing my impending retirement in a lighthearted manner here, I am well aware that there are risks and losses associated with this major life transition that cannot be simply brushed aside.
I’ll be losing daily contact with my dear workplace friends, some of whom I’ve known for decades. A benefit of my job has been an excellent health insurance plan. As a cancer survivor that has been vital.
Naturally, I will apply for the health insurance I will need in retirement, but I already know that it won’t be quite as good as what I have had for years and that the out-of-pocket costs for certain prescription medications are prohibitive.
As a social worker, I have always been an advocate. I can already see that if I choose to in retirement, there will be no shortage of causes to take on if I wish to continue to employ my advocacy skills.
One of the more mundane operations in preparation for my retirement has been cleaning out my office at work and making some room for my books and other items at home. In making space at home, I came across a box that contained some of my old report cards.
My first-grade teacher Gertrude Finkel wrote: “Andrew tends to go to extremes lately. He is either the best boy in the class, or he creates mischief.” A few years later my Hebrew school teacher wrote: “Andy has some disruptive influence on his neighbors.”
William Wordsworth wrote that “the child is the father to the man” in his 1802 poem “My Heart Leaps Up.” To the extent that this applies to one’s later years, I’m not sure that I want to create mischief in retirement, although it does sound like it could be fun.
Upon re-reading my teachers’ comments, I have come to believe that my disruptive behavior was a precursor, a primitive sign if you will, of what the late civil rights activist, Congressman John Lewis referred to as “getting into good trouble.” I think I can do that, whether or not I neglect my appearance in retirement.
When North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center decided to cancel its in-person Spring Luncheon fundraiser this year to keep its supporters safe during the pandemic, the organization came up with a creative alternative: the first-of-its-kind Spring Lunch-In, a virtual event held on March 24 that featured fabulous recipes and table design tips from some of our area’s most philanthropic businesses.
George and Gillis Poll, restaurateurs extraordinaire and owners of Bryant & Cooper Steakhouse, showcased three of their most popular recipes, giving viewers step-by-step instructions in the kitchen of the iconic Roslyn restaurant. They also gave a behind-the-scenes tour of their world-class Bryant & Cooper Butcher Shop & Retail Market, which is adjacent to the restaurant and open to the public.
Speaking to the mission of the Guidance Center, George Poll said, “The work they do to help children and families struggling with mental health is significant. My brother Gillis, my wife Kristen and I are proud to be part of the Center’s continuing great work.”
The event, held over Zoom, also featured talented designer Susan Micelotta of White + One, who gave attendees tips on how to create a beautiful outdoor table setting for spring that is sure to impress. All the products shown are available at the Port Washington store.
“I was proud to be a part of the Spring Lunch-In,” said Micelotta. “Children are our future, and we need to make a better world for them to live in by supporting and giving all that we can to organizations such as the Guidance Center.”
Guidance Center Board Member Alexis Siegel, who joined the Poll brothers and Micelotta as the event’s gracious hostess, was thrilled at the Spring Lunch-In’s success. “We’re so grateful to George, Gillis and Susan for their dedication to our work,” said Siegel, who co-chaired the event with Jan Ashley and Amy Cantor “The pandemic has created a real mental health crisis, with children, teens and their families experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression. I’m proud to be part of an organization that addresses these needs with compassion and expertise.”
Guidance Center Board Member and Spring Lunch-In committee member Jo-Ellen Hazan, who joined Siegel at the lunch and was instrumental in planning the event, said, “The Guidance Center is blessed to have so many wonderful community members who support our mission. Their dedication makes our work possible.”
The Guidance Center is looking forward to returning to Glen Head Country Club for next year’s Spring Luncheon, an in-person fundraiser on April 28th, 2022. The highly anticipated event will feature card games, Mahjong and a delicious buffet.
All proceeds for the Spring Lunch-In support the Guidance Center’s work to bring hope and healing to the children and families in our local communities. To learn more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org or call (516) 626-1971.
After 45 years of dedicated service, Andrew Malekoff has announced his retirement from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s premiere children’s mental health agency.
Malekoff, who joined the Guidance Center as an intern in 1977, has been the organization’s Executive Director/CEO for 15 years. He has a distinguished record of leadership and innovation, creating many of the agency’s most successful programs.
Malekoff provided administrative leadership in the development of the Guidance Center’s substance use treatment and prevention program, which made it the first organization on Long Island to be awarded an Outpatient Chemical Dependency for Youth License to treat adolescents.
As a leading voice in advocating for parity, Malekoff has testified in Albany calling for timely and affordable access to mental health and substance use care. His dedication led to a partnership with Long Island University on a research study called Project Access, which revealed massive inequities and roadblocks inherent in accessing mental health care.
The study has been cited as an important tool in advocating for essential systemic change.
Malekoff is a prolific and highly respected author whose articles have appeared in local and national outlets. He is a renowned expert in group therapy and wrote the definitive book on the subject: “Group Work with Adolescents: Principles and Practice,” which has been published internationally.
In partnership with Nassau B.O.C.E.S., Malekoff developed the Guidance Center’s Intensive Support Program (ISP), a school-based mental health program serving children from ages 5 to 21 years of age from all 56 Nassau districts. The program, now in its 25th year, provides students who are experiencing serious emotional problems an alternative to institutional or more restrictive settings.
During his tenure as executive director/CEO, Malekoff spearheaded the Guidance Center’s efforts in childhood mental health research in partnership with major research institutions including the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University, NYU Child Study Center and Northwell Health.
“Under Andy’s tenure, the Guidance Center has been there for families on Long Island during many crises, including the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Sandy and the pandemic,” said Paul Vitale, Board President. “His leadership has been steady, strong and innovative.”
Nancy Lane, former board resident who has worked with Malekoff for three decades, said, “Over his many years at the Guidance Center, Andy has provided compassionate, expert care to children and families experiencing issues such as depression, anxiety, bullying and other serious challenges.
His advocacy work and dedication to ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness is unmatched. While I have no doubts that the agency will continue to thrive, Andy will be sorely missed.”
Senate Resolution No. 556
BY: Senator KAPLAN
HONORING Andrew Malekoff upon the occasion of his
retirement after 45 years of distinguished service
to North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center
WHEREAS, The unity of our State and Nation is built upon the
compassion of individuals, such as Andrew Malekoff who uphold the values
of community life and who, through their great actions, epitomize the
best of humanity; and
WHEREAS, This Legislative Body is justly proud to honor Andrew
Malekoff upon the occasion of his retirement after 45 years of
distinguished service to North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center;
WHEREAS, For the more than four decades, Andrew Malekoff rendered
faithful, conscientious and valuable service to North Shore Child and
Family Guidance Center; and
WHEREAS, North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center is Long
Island's premiere children's mental health agency; it is a rare thing
for a person to devote their entire career to one organization and one
mission; Andrew Malekoff is one such individual; and
WHEREAS, Andrew Malekoff, joined the Guidance Center as an intern in
1977; as a clinician, he gave his all to every client, offering
compassion, creativity and wise counsel; and
WHEREAS, In 2007, Andrew Malekoff became Executive Director/CEO of
the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, continuing a
distinguished record of leadership and innovation; furthermore, he
created many of the agency's most successful programs, always facing
challenges with strength and grace; and
WHEREAS, While many agencies were bought up by huge conglomerates
and became factory-like in their approach, Andrew Malekoff's dedication
prevented the Guidance Center from ever veering from their mission to
provide community-based mental health care to all that entered their
WHEREAS, Andrew Malekoff was instrumental in organizing the
development of the Guidance Center's substance use treatment and
prevention program, which made it the first organization on Long Island
to be awarded an Outpatient Chemical Dependency for Youth License to
treat adolescents; and
WHEREAS, In his official acts, Andrew Malekoff was governed by a
keen sense of duty and always showed a unique grasp of human problems;
in an extraordinary career which traversed more than four decades he
served with loyalty, honor and distinction, earning the admiration,
esteem and affection of his colleagues; and
WHEREAS, Rare indeed is the impressive dedication shown by an
individual for the benefit of others which Andrew Malekoff has displayed
throughout his life; and
WHEREAS, It has always been the objective of this Legislative Body
to honor and support those individuals who have displayed their
commitment to the betterment of their communities, and it is the intent
of this Legislative Body to inscribe upon its records, this tribute to
Andrew Malekoff, that future generations may know and appreciate his
admirable character, his many benevolent deeds, and the respect and
esteem in which he is held by his peers; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That this Legislative Body pause in its deliberations to
honor Andrew Malekoff upon the occasion of his retirement after 45 years
of distinguished service to North Shore Child and Family Guidance
Center, and to wish him well in all his future endeavors; and be it
RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution, suitably engrossed, be
transmitted to Andrew Malekoff.
Note: The Guidance Center received permission from Andrew Malekoff to post this commentary which he authored independently.
“We have seen this terrible nightmare before.”
So said Chinese-American activist Helen Zia during a forum on anti-Asian racism hosted by the Washington Post on March 8th. What she was referring to is the disturbing uptick in verbal and physical assault against Asian-Americans of all ages ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zia and historian Erika Lee, reviewed some of the historical markers in this recurrent nightmare, beginning with the establishment of Japanese internment camps from 1942 to 1945, in reaction to Japan’s 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into WWII. The interning of Japanese-Americans has long been considered one of the most dreadful violations of American civil rights in the 20th century.
Some 70 years earlier on October 24, 1871, in what some have labelled the largest mass lynching in American history, up to 20 innocent Chinese immigrants were beaten, murdered and hanged by an enraged mob after a police officer and rancher had been killed, supposedly as the result of a conflict between two rival Chinese gangs.
Ten assailants were prosecuted and eight were convicted of manslaughter. The convictions were later overturned on appeal due to technicalities.
Eleven years following the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 became law. It was aimed at curtailing the influx of Chinese immigrant laborers into the United States.
This marks the only time in American history that a specific law was passed that prohibited all members of a particular ethnic or national group from settling in the United States.
One hundred years later, in 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American draftsman was beaten to death in Detroit by two white men – a Chrysler plant supervisor and a laid-off autoworker.
Asian-Americans of all backgrounds became prime targets, as automakers from Japan who were producing more fuel-efficient cars were blamed for layoffs at “The Big Three” – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Chin’s murderers got off on probation.
Looking back, “people knew from personal experience that we were lumped together,” said Helen Zia. “But in terms of identifying as pan-Asian, the key thing was that a man was killed because they thought he looked like a different ethnicity.”
In her latest book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Pulitzer-prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson cites anthropologists Audrey and Brian Smedley who explain, “We think we ‘see’ race when we encounter certain physical difference among people such as skin color, eye shape and hair texture.
What we actually ‘see’ are the learned social meanings, the stereotypes that have been linked to those physical features by the ideology of race and the historical legacy it has left us.” Indeed, most of the attacks against people of Asian descent in American are not against Chinese but anyone who looks East Asian.
Fast forward to 2021. The public health crisis we have been facing for a full year now has put a bullseye squarely on all people of Asian descent living in the U.S. According to reports by the Anti-Defamation League, “Go back to China” has become a familiar taunt against anyone who looks to be Asian and thought to be a source of contagion and disease.
Historically, immigrant communities have been singled out in times of public health crises. Their passage to the U.S. has been given pejorative labels such as plague and invasion, objectifying them as if they are riddled with infection or akin to swarms of insects carrying disease.
Here we are in the opening decades of the 21st century and the nightmare is back with a vengeance. In recent months it was brought to my attention that a 5-year-old Asian-American child was on the receiving end of a coronavirus-driven tirade while playing in a park in Nassau County. The verbal assault left him shaken and stunned that someone would yell such things at him.
On February 10th, USA Today reported that “in one week in February, a 91-year-old man in Oakland Chinatown was brutally assaulted, a Thai man was attacked and killed in San Francisco and a Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000 in San Jose.”
Law enforcement can and should help, but nothing less than empathy will ultimately make the difference – “radical empathy” as Isabel Wilkerson advised, “the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it.”
We all – all of us, bear the moral responsibility to stand up, as opposed to sitting by silently when we witness this terrible nightmare come to life.
By Lisa L. Colangelo and David Reich-Hale, October 4, 2020
Six months after New Yorkers first hunkered down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial shock may have eased but the stress and anxiety have lingered, according to mental health experts.
The demand for counseling and therapy has increased as Long Islanders wait to see if schools can remain open, brace for flu season or even anticipate a possible second wave of COVID-19.
“There’s this sense that everyone’s waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Dr. William Sanderson, a psychologist and director of the Anxiety & Depression Clinic at Hofstra University. “We aren’t really sure as we go into fall, are we going to be back where we were in March and April?”
In June 2020 on average, 36.5% of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. Between January 2019 and June 2019, 11% of adults reported those symptoms.
Health care providers are using a mix of telehealth and in-person visits to facilitate support groups, individual therapy and family therapy for people grappling with fear, anxiety, depression and other challenges stemming from the pandemic.
“A silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that it pushed mental health, full-force, into telehealth.” Dr. Adam Gonzalez, the director of Behavioral Health at Stony Brook Medicine
“A silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that it pushed mental health, full-force, into telehealth,” said Dr. Adam Gonzalez, the director of Behavioral Health at Stony Brook Medicine. “We saw a decrease in cancellations and no shows because of telehealth.”
At NYU Winthrop, demand for mental health services skyrocketed.
The pandemic “has a ripple effect on almost every layer of society,” said Dr. Aaron Pinkhasov, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Winthrop Hospital, which has seen a 40% increase in demand for mental health services.
The ferocity of the news cycle has added to the stress, with reports of clusters of new casesemerging in New York and even the president and first lady testing positive in recent days.
No age group has been spared, Pinkhasov said. The lack of social contact has been especially difficult for young children as well as senior citizens. Then there is the pressure on adults caring for their children and aging parents, in many cases while working from home.
“Right now, more than ever, it’s important to expand mental health services and also educate primary care physicians, pediatricians, geriatric doctors and make them aware of the problem,” Pinkhasov said.
‘A chronic malaise’
During the height of the pandemic, the daily toll of infections, hospitalizations and deaths was grim and overwhelming. In April, over 700 New Yorkers died in one day.
But the percentage of new COVID-19 cases has hovered around a relatively low 1% for many weeks. The spread of the virus was slowed by the economic shutdown and individuals wearing masks, sheltering in place and avoiding crowds. The success came at a price.
“It cost us emotionally because a lot of it had to do with withdrawal and reductions in our lifestyle … now people are dealing with more of a chronic malaise.” Dr. William Sanderson, psychologist and director of the Anxiety & Depression Clinic at Hofstra University
“It cost us emotionally because a lot of it had to do with withdrawal and reductions in our lifestyle,” Sanderson said. “The shock is over and now people are dealing with more of a chronic malaise.”
Health care workers on the front lines fought hard to help patients, while dealing with their own stress, said Dr. Curtis Reisinger, a psychologist and director of Northwell’s Employee and Family Assistance Program, which offers confidential counseling services.
“We saw an eightfold increase in the number of people who called us after COVID,” Reisinger said. “We are still up 20% from what normal levels were.”
“We saw an eightfold increase in the number of people who called us after COVID.” Dr. Curtis Reisinger, psychologist and director of Northwell’s Employee and Family Assistance Program
He said that increase has come, in part, because people who might have been uncomfortable asking for assistance, realize how helpful talking to a therapist could be.
“The access is also that much better, because of telehealth,” Reisinger said.
Twenty-year-old Kelly Christ of Manhasset is hoping her struggles with anxiety will help others feel more comfortable to reach out for help. The Fordham University senior wrote blog posts and ran social media for the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center this summer in an effort to help destigmatize the need to seek treatment.
“It was really good to have a person to talk to,” said Christ. “It made me feel like I wasn’t all alone, because sometimes if you’re talking to family and friends, you feel guilty.”
Others have seen existing mental health conditions aggravated.
John Lindstrom, 48, of Hicksville said his “depression has gone up a great deal” during the crisis.
Lindstrom, diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, said he has only recently started to reconnect with family and friends after feeling severely isolated in his basement apartment during the height of pandemic — too fearful to venture out to a 7-Eleven store.
While he has continued telehealth, he misses the camaraderie at the Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services in Hicksville where he spent time several days a week.
The excitement of children returning to school has been replaced with anxiety for parents and children, experts say.
“We are seeing a lot of school-aged children dealing with the aftermath of quarantine isolation and having to get used to a whole new world,” said Dr. Janet Kahn-Scolaro, administrative director of Behavioral Health, at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital. “There is a fear of the disease, not just for them but for their parents.”
Kahn-Scolaro said parents should be educated on how to help children process what they are seeing and hearing about the pandemic.
“Little kids hear a whole lot of stuff,” she said. “They never process it the way adults think they do.”
Regina Barros-Rivera, associate executive director at Roslyn Heights-based North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, a not-for-profit children’s mental health agency, said children are missing beloved rituals such as birthday parties, picnics and the routine of going back and forth from school.
“I find parents who can offer structure can have more success,” she said. “Perhaps it’s a corner of a room that becomes their classroom. Create as much of a routine as possible.”
Winter days ahead
The warm summer months have given quarantine-weary Long Islanders a chance to get outside and safely visit with friends and family. But the long, lazy beach days are giving way to a brisk fall and earlier sunsets.
“As the weather turns colder a lot of us are fearful of what that means in terms of continuing to socialize.” Dr. David Flomenhaft, director of the outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Mercy Medical Center
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“As the weather turns colder a lot of us are fearful of what that means in terms of continuing to socialize,” said Dr. David Flomenhaft, director of the outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Mercy Medical Center, which has seen a 20% increase in referrals over the last six months.
Flomenhaft said people should maintain routines, get exercise and avoid staying up late watching TV — even if they are working from home.
He is hopeful many can adapt: “We believe that people can grow and improve having survived difficult times.”
With David Olson
SOME PLACES FOR SUPPORT
SOURCE: Newsday Research.
It wasn’t necessary for the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012 to validate that there is evil in the world. But what it did is affirm that if the massacre of 6- and 7-year-old children is not off limits, then nothing is.
This perception has been so routinely validated since that fateful day there is the real possibility that we are becoming numb to mass shootings in America.
Psychic numbing is a psychological condition that leads one to feeling indifferent to horrific events. The quote attributed to Joseph Stalin, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” is an illustration of that state.
The sabbath day synagogue attack in Poway, Calif., is just the latest mass shooting in America and the second synagogue shooting in only six months following the Tree of Life slaughter in Pittsburgh.
After some time passes, Poway will become another tombstone in our collective psyche, alongside all the others that have occurred in churches, mosques, public schools, colleges, shopping malls, nightclubs, business offices, concert halls and more.
Shortly after the shootings, mental health experts, clergy and educators offer tips, wisdom and spiritual support to speechless parents about how to soothe their children. Their advice always is: Be available emotionally, be compassionate, limit media exposure, reassure safety, offer distractions to prevent obsessive worry, watch for angry outbursts and depression and, if symptoms persist, seek professional help.
I imagine if parents were to speak from their guts instead of their heads and hearts, they would likely tell their children: “It’s a cruel world, evil is everywhere, toughen up, watch your back, and don’t trust anyone.”
In 2019 alone, through the end of March and before Poway, there have been 70 mass shootings, 90 dead and 249 wounded across the country. These statistics can be found in any number of publications that have taken on the task of tracking mass shootings in the United States. They include USA Today, Mother Jones, Vox and the Washington Post.
When I was a child, I was an avid collector of baseball cards. I knew all the stats of my favorite players. I checked the box scores in the papers each morning after a game. Those were the numbers that consumed my childhood. Now it’s mass shootings. How many? How many dead? How many wounded? What team is the shooter on? Is he a lone wolf?
It is sad to say but I am no longer shocked. I know Poway won’t be the last nor will the next be the last.
In an interview with Bill Moyers one year after 9/11, psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton said, “I think we all have a double life. On the one hand, we know we can be annihilated and everybody around us by terrorism, by the incredible weaponry this world now has. And yet in another part of our mind we simply go through our routine. And, we do what we do in life, and we try to do it as well as we can.”
Lifton has a most unique perspective having studied the aftermath of the Hiroshima bomb, the Nazi doctors, and the cult that released gas into the Tokyo subway, among many other horrible things people do to one another.
What he seems to be saying is that on the one hand we’re free to live our day-to-day lives, but on the other hand, we are never unmindful of these events. And, so we have a choice to make. We can let these events pass us by as a train in the night or get involved in something that really matters.
Students, like those from from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have been models for transcending inertia and taking social action, at choosing hope over despair.
As one such student from Iowa said in an interview on PBS: “Change will not come on its own. We have to make it for ourselves. The adults have proven that they are unwilling to move beyond thoughts and prayers. We must force them into action.”
Take a stand.
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.