Saturday, September 30, 2017

MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION A MUST FOR SCHOOLS

New legislation signed by Governor Cuomo in 2016 requires that public schools in New York State begin providing instruction in mental health on or after July 1, 2018. The legislation was co-sponsored by Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Nassau) and Assemblywoman Kathy Nolan (D-Queens).
The new legislation adds mental health education to areas of learning that were already required by law, including education on the use and misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other substances and the early detection of cancer.
According to Glen Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State, “By ensuring that young people are educated about mental health, we increase the likelihood that they will be able to recognize signs in themselves and others that indicate when help is needed and how to get help.”
Why is this legislation so important? One in five adolescents ages 13-18 is diagnosed with a mental health problem, yet only 40% get help. The average time from onset to seeking help is eight to 10 years. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 12 high school students attempt suicide, the third leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year olds.
Teaching about mental health in schools and educating to reduce stigma is long overdue. There is great misunderstanding and fear among many who have erroneous ideas about people with mental illness. Consequently, young people suffering with mental illness walk around school feeling isolated, believing that there’s something inherently wrong with them that will never change.
These children and teens often feel shunned, unlike their peers who have a physical health problem and who have others rally around them. I can vividly recall a news report and photo of a middle school boy afflicted with cancer who was receiving chemotherapy. In the photo he was surrounded by his teacher and a smiling group of his classmates, all of whom shaved their heads in solidarity with him. Imagine if instead of cancer he was depressed and suicidal. There would be no such image of public support, only one of isolation, shame and despair.
A caring school community can offer a young person a safety net of meaningful and helpful connections. It is not unusual for a teenager to feel defective when struggling alone with a mental illness. Mental health education in schools can begin with mental wellness practices for children as early as four or five years old, for example, by teaching social skills and how to manage angry feelings.
As children grow they can learn about the concept of wellness including self-care and personal responsibility. They can learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of developing mental health problems, how to manage crises such as the risk of suicide and self-harm and how to identify appropriate services and supports for treating and maintaining recovery from mental illness.
can already hear those voices that will decry using educational resources for addressing the emotional needs of kids. If that is your view, I ask you to consider that approximately 50% of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school. Youngsters’ mental health and their ability to learn and become productive citizens in the community and workplace go hand-in-hand.
We owe it to our children to support this vital new legislation by encouraging schools to incorporate meaningful education into the curriculum that reinforces the idea that mental health is an integral part of wellbeing. Our children need to learn that there is help that can lead to recovery.
Andrew Malekoff is the Executive Director and CEO 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, visitwww.northshorechildguidance.org.
This article first appeared in Long Island Weekly, an Anton Media Group publication, on September 27

Thursday, September 21, 2017

LOOKING FOR A PATH BACK TO CIVILITY

Looking for a path back to civility
Appeared in Expressway in Newsday, September 17, 2017, p. A29

By Andrew Malekoff     

My family lives in a high ranch in a section of Long Beach known as “the canals.” The houses sit close together, sometimes just yards apart. One warm August afternoon many years ago, one of my neighbors lit his fireplace. Our windows were wide open and in no time our house filled with smoke. We appealed to our neighbors to wait until the weather was a little cooler. Later that evening, we were again invaded by smoke.

After one more attempt to address the problem civilly, it became clear to me that our neighbors did not appreciate that their pleasure was our pain. Drawing on my knowledge of nonviolent tactics to resolve conflict, I went door to door on the street to enlist support and called local officials. Some neighbors spoke up about the problem. The fireplace problem was soon resolved.

Years later, I was out for an early morning bike ride on East Park Avenue in Long Beach when I was run down by a driver who subscribed to the now-popular practice of turning right on red without coming to a full stop. The irate driver exited his car, pointed up and hollered, “I had green!” He backed off when I corrected him, loudly, from my prone position underneath my mangled bicycle. I survived with a few bumps and bruises. When he saw the shape of my bike, he threw a $50 bill at me and said, “This is for your bike.”

Most people I talk to agree that civility is on the decline. Everyone seems to have his or her own horror stories, whether it is inconsiderate neighbors or co-workers, aggressive driving or just plain rudeness. There are books on the subject. Titles include “The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct” and “A Short History of Rudeness.” Another is “The Duel in Early Modern England: Civility, Politeness and Honour.” Ah, yes, those were the days.

We have become all too familiar with the epidemic of F-bombs that pepper civic discourse, pervasive public cellphone calls and drunkenness at sporting events. We live in a time when every movie theater begins with a public service announcement stating ground rules for being considerate.

Highways have become the Wild West. Hardly anyone comes to a complete stop for a stop sign. The yellow traffic signal has evolved from its original meaning, slow down, to speed up. And, of course, there are tailgating, middle-finger salutes and rampant road rage.

Today, there is so much talk about putting an end to bullying in schools. Yet, we live in a world of adults who don’t think twice about trampling personal boundaries through rude, intimidating and obnoxious behavior.

It never fails to surprise me, when I travel somewhere, to see drivers stop for pedestrians, and people of all ages wave and say, “Good morning.”

If we cannot reverse the trend, we can at least slow down and teach our children, after we remind ourselves, the importance of putting a pause between impulse and action. Perhaps it is somewhere inside of that sacred space that we can find our way back to a civil society.
  
Andrew Malekoff, Long Beach.

Monday, August 21, 2017

MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION A MUST FOR SCHOOLS

New legislation signed by Governor Cuomo in 2016 requires that public schools in New York State begin providing instruction in mental health on or after July 1, 2018. The legislation was co-sponsored by Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Nassau) and Assemblywoman Kathy Nolan (D-Queens).

The new legislation adds mental health education to areas of learning that were already required by law, including education on the use and misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other substances and the early detection of cancer.

According to Glen Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State, “By ensuring that young people are educated about mental health, we increase the likelihood that they will be able to recognize signs in themselves and others that indicate when help is needed and how to get help.”

Why is this legislation so important? One in five adolescents ages 13-18 is diagnosed with a mental health problem, yet only 40% get help. The average time from onset to seeking help is eight to 10 years.  According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 12 high school students attempt suicide, the third leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year olds.

Teaching about mental health in schools and educating to reduce stigma is long overdue. There is great misunderstanding and fear among many who have erroneous ideas about people with mental illness. Consequently, young people suffering with mental illness walk around school feeling isolated, believing that there’s something inherently wrong with them that will never change.

These children and teens often feel shunned, unlike their peers who have a physical health problem and who have others rally around them. I can vividly recall a news report and photo of a middle school boy afflicted with cancer who was receiving chemotherapy. In the photo he was surrounded by his teacher and a smiling group of his classmates, all of whom shaved their heads in solidarity with him.  Imagine if instead of cancer he was depressed and suicidal. There would be no such image of public support, only one of isolation, shame and despair.

A caring school community can offer a young person a safety net of meaningful and helpful connections. It is not unusual for a teenager to feel defective when struggling alone with a mental illness. Mental health education in schools can begin with mental wellness practices for children as early as four or five years old, for example, by teaching social skills and how to manage angry feelings.

As children grow they can learn about the concept of wellness including self-care and personal responsibility. They can learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of developing mental health problems, how to manage crises such as the risk of suicide and self-harm and how to identify appropriate services and supports for treating and maintaining recovery from mental illness.

I can already hear those voices that will decry using educational resources for addressing the emotional needs of kids. If that is your view, I ask you to consider that approximately 50% of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school. Youngsters’ mental health and their ability to learn and become productive citizens in the community and workplace go hand-in-hand.


We owe it to our children to support this vital new legislation by encouraging schools to incorporate meaningful education into the curriculum that reinforces the idea that mental health is an integral part of wellbeing. Our children need to learn that there is help that can lead to recovery.

by Andrew Malekoff

Published in Long Island Weekly, September 2017

WHAT WOULD GEORGE CARLIN SAY?

The first standup act I saw live was George Carlin. I was 18-years-old and Carlin was playing on campus my freshman year at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  I sat on the floor in the student center multi-purpose room. The show took place three years before Carlin was arrested for violating obscenity laws in Milwaukee after his legendary routine: "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television."

Carlin was a social critic whose acts included his thoughts on politics, the English language, religion, and a variety of taboo subjects. He complained that American English is replete with euphemisms because Americans have difficulty dealing with reality. His views pre-dated the term “politically correct.”

Carlin said that we use euphemisms to shield us from reality, that we use “soft language.” To illustrate he said that poor people used to live in “slums” and now "the economically disadvantaged" occupy "substandard housing" in the "inner cities." He said, maybe if we were not to use this type of language, people would realize what is going on, and that there are actually problems in the world. And maybe we could solve them.

Carlin’s advice comes to mind when I think about health care. One of his memorable lines on the subject was, "Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do 'practice'?"  

Columnist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times: “How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as ‘consumers’? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car - and their only complaint is that it isn't commercial enough.”

Maybe the impersonal quality of such language made it easier for the majority members of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

The facts are that if the AHCA become law, as written, basic protections for individuals with preexisting conditions will be eliminated and the federal requirement that mental health and addictions care be included by insurers as an essential benefit will be removed.

Maybe instead of “preexisting conditions” we should refer to it as “people who will suffer and die without affordable and timely healthcare.”  

In any case, if the House’s AHCA passes the Senate, it will result in more families that are struggling with mental illness and addictions finding their loved ones in emergency rooms, in costly institutional settings, on the street, in jail, or in the ground.

Treatment is the most effective way to help those with mental illness and addiction ― treatment that often needs insurance coverage, just like any other health problem.
The answer is not “Obamacare” or “Trumpcare”. We need “Bi-partisancare” that puts the American family first.

One thing is for sure, if George Carlin were still around to weigh in on the AHCA, he would be invoking "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" and, I’m certain, a few choice new ones.

by Andrew Malekoff

First pubished in Long Island Weekly, June 2017

https://longislandweekly.com/george-carlin-say/
  

AN ABUNDANCE OF HEART


September marks the start of another new school year and, for football diehards, it’s also the kickoff to a new season. The flowing together of the two brings to mind the moving story of former Florida State University (FSU) wide receiver Travis Rudolph and Bo Paske, a sixth grade boy with autism.

At the start of the school year in 2016, Rudolph and several teammates visited Montford Middle School in Tallahassee, located near the FSU campus. When Travis spotted 11-year-old Bo sitting alone in the cafeteria, he walked over with his slice of pizza, joined him, and struck up a conversation.

Travis’ simple act of kindness drew national attention when a photo of the two sitting across from one another went viral. Bo described the lunch as “kind of like me sitting on a rainbow.” Travis remarked: “A lot of people give me credit for doing what I did, even though I just see it as that is me.”

Bo told Travis that he was a big FSU fan. The two of them stayed in touch after their first encounter.

Leah Paske, Bo’s mom, wrote about it on Facebook: “Several times lately I have tried to remember my time in middle school. Did I have many friends? Did I sit with anyone at lunch? Just how mean were kids really? Now that I have a child starting middle school, I have feelings of anxiety for him, and they can be overwhelming. Sometimes I'm grateful for his autism. That may sound like a terrible thing to say, but in some ways I think, I hope, it shields him. He doesn't seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn't seem to notice that he doesn't get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn't seem to mind if he eats lunch alone.”

She went on to say, “A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption ‘Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son’ I replied ‘Who is that?’ He said ‘FSU football player,’ then I had tears streaming down my face. I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I'm happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.

Difference and inclusion are terms that are increasingly in vogue in today’s public schools. Growing numbers of children who were previously separated in special education classes and schools are being integrated into the “mainstream” in order to reduce costs and provide less restrictive environments for learning and social-emotional development.

Labeled children, particularly as they approach adolescence, are often objectified, devalued, isolated and ridiculed by their peers. Objectification robs individuals of their humanity. In such relationships the different child simply becomes “the other,” the one too often left out in the cold.

In an era when there seems to be no shortage of awful stories generating from college campuses, the story and photo of Travis and Bo is a breath of fresh air. Henry James said that “a good story is both a picture and idea, and that the picture and the idea should try to be interfused.”

The picture of Travis joining Bo at the lunch table tells us that a simple act of kindness can go a long way to making a difference in someone’s life. We learned from Travis that what it takes is just a little effort—and an abundance of heart.

by Andrew Malekoff

Published in Long Island Weekly, August 2017
https://longislandweekly.com/an-abundance-of-heart/








A TREE FOR ALL SEASONS


In a four year span during the mid to late 1990s my now-grown children lost three of their grandparents and their dog. My boys were 10 and 6 when my father died in 1994. Three years later there were three more losses. My mom died in 1997.  A little more than one year later my father-in-law and dog Kirby, a cairn terrier, died on the same day in August 1998. My wife and I were in Quebec City at a music festival, at the time, on our first extended vacation away from our children when we received the news in two heartbreaking telephone calls just six hours apart.

As a mental health professional who has spent time with bereaved children and adults over many years, I had extensive knowledge about how children process death at different ages. Over the years I developed good skills in listening and gently encouraging the expression of feelings through talk and play. But I also knew that addressing the death of strangers was not the same thing as coping with one’s own losses.

Like so much that I have struggled with as a parent, I knew I had to put my credentials aside and simply do the best I could to support my family and take care of myself, as I was bereaved as well.

Soon thereafter my family and I experienced  another death—this time  with an impact I had not expected and effects that linger to this day. In our yard was an old pine tree that had to be felled after it contracted a disease. None of the tree “experts” that I employed could bring it back to health.

It was a splendid tree of great character, oddly shaped, home to a squirrel’s nest and countless birds, and with branches sitting low enough for swinging and climbing. Its trunk was thick enough to run around to evade contact during games of tag. It was free enough of branches in one high spot to support a backboard and hoop.

It wasn’t easy to dribble on the grass but it was just perfect for endless games of H-O-R-S-E. On the warmest summer days its shade offered respite from the oppressive sun. Each fall I was left with the unpleasant task of raking pine needles. But our tree also bore pine cones that I threw into the winter fireplace for extra snap, crackle and pop that rivaled Rice Krispies.

It was our family tree, a tree for all seasons.

Today, when I look outside or sit in the yard I am flooded with memories of my old friend and the times we had together. We’ve planted a few new trees around the perimeter of the yard in the intervening years, but the hole in the center remains.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.”


Life is full of surprises, and it came as a surprise to me to think that I would one day be thinking about how much I really loved that old tree.

by Andrew Malekoff

Published in Long Island Weekly, July 2017
https://longislandweekly.com/a-tree-for-all-seasons/

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER - OR MORE?

Have you heard of godwinks? A godwink is an experience where you'd say, "What are the chances of that!" It’s been described by some as a spiritual message of reassurance, especially in times of uncertainty, maybe the impetus for restored faith during difficult times. Some see it as divine intervention, others as pure coincidence.

Although I was not familiar with the term, it reminded me of something that happened to me that I thought was astonishing. In 2005 I lost a very good friend and colleague named Roselle. We had become business partners in 1990. The longtime editors of a popular professional journal decided to step down and asked the two of us, strangers at the time, to become their successors.

Years later we both revealed that we were, at first, wary of each other. After all, we’d never met, and so we had no idea what it would be like working together as co-editors of an esteemed quarterly publication. Roselle was a university professor and I was a frontline mental health practitioner. What we shared in common was that we were both published authors.

After a relatively short period of testing and unease we not only became great collaborators but fast friends. The relationship ended in June of 2005 when I received a call that Roselle had died. It was sudden, unexpected and heartbreaking.

Shortly thereafter, in December 2005, I organized a meeting with two of Roselle’s fellow professors and friends. Together we decided to develop a special publication in Roselle’s honor. We were to meet in Manhattan at their university. Normally, I would have just taken the LIRR into the city the morning of our meeting, but, as luck would have it, at the time there was a transit strike. So I decided to play it safe and get in the night before and stay in a hotel while the trains were still running.

That night I took a walk and stopped in a bar to get a glass of wine. I walked to the end of the bar and there was my cousin Amy whom I had not seen in years. Unbeknownst to me, she lived across the street from the bar and was working as a real estate broker. It was great catching up with her.

Fast forward some months later. I was back in Manhattan to take care of some business regarding my partnership with Roselle at a local university. Having reconnected, I called Amy to see if she was free for lunch. She was and so we got together. She asked me why I was in the city. I told her I had to go to Hunter College School of Social Work to take care of some business related to a partnership I had with a professor there. I explained that she died last June. She asked me, “What was her name?” I told her, “Roselle Kurland.” She gasped and said, “Oh my God, I just sold her apartment!”


Was this a godwink? Was it a tangible signpost giving me hope and faith that someone is watching over me and everything is going to be alright? Or was it pure coincidence, a fluke? I choose to think that it was more than that. During these uncertain times, a source of faith, however unusual, is a welcome reminder that we are not alone and that there is hope.

by Andrew Malekoff

Published in Long Island Weekly, May 2017
https://longislandweekly.com/a-chance-encounter-or-more/