Thursday, July 14, 2011

About Mental Illness

After the horrific events of the past days, a friend who works in the psych fields e-mailed me, asking that this blog discuss not only the very important aspects of talking to one's children and communicating with them about the various dangers and how to approach them, but also the fear and stigma the community sometimes has toward discussing issues such as sexual abuse and mental illness, and people who do not get help due to that stigma.

This friend also attended the funeral and noted that "...words cannot describe the experience adequately; the hespedim (that I heard) were in Yiddish, which I do not speak. There was no need to understand the syntax; the emotion felt pierced through and spoke what words could not." [sic]

The friend also emphasized the importance of reading the following letter which appears in full on The Yeshiva World, by the Director of the Center for Applied Psychology (CAPs) at Bikur Cholim (Rockland County), Yitzchak Schechter, Psy.D. I'm quoting an excerpt below, please read it in full:
A simple example to all of what we mentioned comes in this incident itself. Most school age children of the community, whether they be in cheder, day camps, mesivta, sleep away camps or at home will likely hear of this painful and horrific story (or may have heard of other difficult and harrowing stories of the recent past), that is the nature of childhood - stories circulate quickly and usually with great elaboration - without our control. To ignore the story, therefore, is likely foolhardy and to do so allows children to develop their own narrative, perhaps fears, wrong beliefs, etc. about the story and make the traumatic story even worse. Therefore, in a proactive step parents should, at the appropriate level of the child, mention, without anxiety, drama or stress, the sadness that there was a boy who died and if they have any further questions they can discuss it with you the parents. In addition, the moment can, if appropriate, be used to reinforce the very simple concept of safety and privacy (i.e. “no one should touch you in your private parts or make you feel uncomfortable, if they do immediately tell a trusted adult or your parents”). While in this situation it seems to have been a stranger- and of course one should never get into a car or walk with a stranger, the large majority of incidents of abuse occur with people known to the child and familiarity is not protective (and the child must be specifically told “no matter who it is”).
By not allowing secrets, developing open communication and dealing outright with our challenges- as a community, as parents, families and individuals we will create a better environment for our personal and spiritual growth.

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