September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Suicide is a major public health concern. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were 48,344 people who died by suicide in the United States in 2018 and 1.4 million suicide attempts.

Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it does not mean that you are weak, or flawed. It means you are experiencing an overwhelming amount of pain than you cannot manage at this time. When you get the right support and begin to talk about your feelings, you can overcome your problems and the pain and suicidal feelings will pass. Emotions are not fixed – they are constantly changing. How you feel today may not be the same as how you felt yesterday or how you’ll feel tomorrow or next week.

The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs: 

Someone at risk for suicide may exhibit or express emotional signs…

  • Empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live
  • Extremely sad, more anxious, agitated, or full of rage
  • Unbearable emotional or physical pain

There are also changes in behavior that may indicate someone is at risk for suicide…

  • Make a plan or research ways to die
  • Talk about feeling helpless or having no reason to live; “I am better off dead,” or “I wish I was never born.”
  • Withdraw from friends, say good bye, give away important items, or make a will
  • Take dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast
  • Display extreme mood swings
  • Eating or sleeping more or less
  • Using drugs or alcohol more often
  • Recent trauma or life crisis

If someone says they are suicidal, or behaves in a way that makes you think the person may be suicidal, don’t play it down or ignore the situation. Many people who die by suicide have expressed the intention at some point. You may worry that you’re overreacting, but the safety of your friend or loved one is most important.

How to get help: seek out a trained professional as quickly as possible.

24/7 Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)

New Jersey Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-855-654-6735

Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741

The Trevor Project (crisis intervention & suicide prevention support for LGBTQ+ youth)

1-866-488-7386 / Text START to 678678

Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 PRESS 1

How to Manage Screen time during COVID-19

Is it possible to practice digital wellness during COVID-19?

Many parents have expressed concerns that their children have been spending too much time in front of screens during COVID-19. The American Heart Association is urging parents to drastically cut the hours their kids can use their phones, computers, tablets, television, and video games.  A recent study from Common Sense Media reported that pre-teens are spending six hours a day in front of a screen and teens nine hours a day.

Parents are challenged with new circumstances as screens are everywhere and children are now learning and playing online. As the school year begins, many children will now be required to spend time on devices for a majority of their school day, which makes it even more important to establish a balance during their recreational time. The reality is everyone needs to be flexible in setting rules and to consider the purpose and benefits of the devices our children use (and ourselves!)

Let’s look at a few suggestions: 

  • Most importantly, parents should model healthy digital behavior by limiting their own screen time and putting their devices down to engage with their children.
  • Set rules around the use of screen time. For example, preview programs, games, and apps before allowing your children to view or play with them; or, consider watching, playing, or using them with your child.
  • Establish time limits for screen use and stick to them! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting hours-per-day limits for children/teens and suggest use of the media time calculator to determine an appropriate amount of time based on the child’s age.
  • Designate a screen free day where physical activity, reading and spending time outdoors is encouraged.
  • Create media free zones such as no screens in the bedrooms and no device use during mealtimes.
  • Plan for screen breaks. Frequent breaks can stop the brain from becoming over stimulated and combat screen addiction.
  • A good rule is to stop all exposure to screens and devices one hour prior to bedtime.
  • Provide alternatives to screen time; play a board game, go on a hike or a bike ride.

Allowing your child to be involved in creating a plan that works for your family is important, it will help them stick to it. Setting limits now will help your child properly manage their screen time and develop digital wellness skills.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC (Director of Clinical Services)

What is teletherapy?

Telehealth meets Mental Health during a Pandemic

While teletherapy is not new, recent policy changes due to COVID-19 have reduced previous barriers and promoted access to virtual services. Offering teletherapy is consistent with JFCS’ values of keeping everyone as safe as possible while this pandemic continues. Teletherapy gives you the option to communicate with a therapist on the telephone or video chat; you chose how your therapy works, the goal is to make it agreeable to your needs. When comparing virtual therapy with office visits, more than 63% of clients reported no difference in the overall quality of the service, according to a study published in January of 2019 in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Similar to traditional therapy, teletherapy with a counselor can support you with a range of issues such as depression, anxiety, relationship issues, trauma or chronic stress. Zoom, Doxy and Facetime are examples of platforms being used by healthcare providers across the country.

As a result of teletherapy, therapists have been welcomed into the client’s home, introduced to family members and their beloved pets. Adult clients report virtual sessions provide them with flexibility, making it easier to maintain appointments while being in the comfort of their homes. Clients have said that it is easier for them to open up, be vulnerable and talk about difficult issues when in their personal, comfortable environments. Children today are comfortable with technology which makes teletherapy very natural for younger clients.

Interventions are creative with hands on activities and interactive games. According to a 2012 Marketing Chart survey, 42% of teens are more comfortable sharing information and are even more open online than in person. American Well (Amwell) reported in 2017, that experiencing therapy inside the comfort of the home setting normalizes mental health care, and is especially useful for the generations of people who are accustomed to interacting with others online.

Here are a few suggestions to prepare for a teletherapy (phone or video) session:

  •  Make sure you are in a private space with no distractions
  •  Jot down questions prior to the session
  •  Keep paper and a pen close by so you can take notes
  •  Make sure you have good cell and/or internet connections

Teletherapy, either by telephone or video chat, is providing a crucial lifeline during this pandemic and JFCS is here to support you. If you are feeling a sense of loss, stress, sadness, relationship or parenting issues, please call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC (Director of Clinical Services)

Supporting those around you and caring for yourself

The COVID pandemic is a stressful time and is effecting people across the world. It can be confusing and hard to see someone you care about not acting like themselves. Taking on the additional task of helping a family member who is having a difficult time requires practical and emotional help. It is also important to ensure that your physical and mental wellbeing remain a priority; ignoring your own self care is a recipe for burnout.

How to help your loved one…

If a loved one is having a difficult time coping with worries, fears, stress or other emotions, it is important to acknowledge their concern; try to see things from their point of view, this will help you understand their perspective. Use effective communication skills with active listening by being engaged and interested in what they are saying.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” – Ralph Nichols

In addition, observe the non-verbal communication such as the tone of their voice, facial expressions or eye contact.

Allow the person space to vent, listen but do not give advice. You can help them do this verbally by giving them a sheet of paper to write down their fears and the best way to deal with them. Over time, the venting of emotions will slow or stop because you are not fueling the fire by disagreeing, correcting them, or by telling them that everything will be okay.

In difficult times we all need additional love. Have patience. Don’t blame or shame. Remember to be empathetic. This will lead to more honest conversations.

Provide hope, it can instill motivation and change someone’s perspective. Reframe the COVID outbreak and have a conversation about what this time is teaching us.

Aim to have opportunities to be together free of COVID conversation. Focus on connecting and strengthening your relationship. Take advantage of the time when your kids are not around and do something fun. Perhaps you can plan a date night; i.e. it can be a picnic in the living room. Plan a meal and cook together or play music and dance. Or, simply dim the lights and get comfortable on the sofa together. If you do not live with your loved one, consider safe opportunities such as a distanced, outdoor get together.

Recognize that there are limits to what you can do to support your loved one. You cannot “fix” them and it may be necessary that they receive professional help.

JFCS offers drop in hours Monday – Friday for a 30 minute session, or you can make a referral for outpatient counseling.

How to help you, the caretaker…

Self-care is a key component to overall positive mental and emotional health. In order to help those around you, it is important to identify your own feelings and emotions. Allow yourself to feel.

If you are personally feeling overwhelmed, journaling could provide you with a release and outlook on what you are going through.

Take time for yourself to reduce stress and unwind. Stay calm. Engage in mindfulness exercises, like adult coloring books/worksheets, reading, working on a hobby, or a relaxing bath. This time will allow you to re-energize as well as recognize that you are important and need to have time to yourself.

Consider joining a support group where you can connect with other people experiencing similar circumstances.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

A Reflection on “Making the Most” of Your Time

From your social media feed to calls with friends, there is a lot of talk about being productive during this pandemic; but not everyone can focus during a stressful time and that is okay. It is important to recognize that in the face of any challenging time, each person will cope in a different way. For some, there is comfort in exploring a new hobby, finding a new creative space, or working on home projects. For others, additional tasks can seem daunting and they must focus simply on the day to day. Everyone’s needs are different.

Our self-worth is often determined by what we have accomplished and how productive we are, for example, a song writer who can compose five hit tunes before breakfast. These are not normal times and we must acknowledge the “act of achieving” will look different for each person.

The unsettling nature of this challenging time can make it  difficult to feel grounded in a routine or to begin a home project. That is okay. We should appreciate that each person has a different “best” and not compare, judge or argue that it is not enough. Try to understand the other person’s situation;, put yourself in their shoes.

 It is important for everyone to honor the needs of your mental, physical, emotional and social well-being. Practice self-care.

It is not a matter of IF self-care is important, it IS critical during this time. Have compassion for yourself. Give yourself permission to take time to unwind, no social media, no outside distractions, no news – sit with your emotions, breathe, and allow yourself to focus internally. Find more mindfulness practice tips in our previous blog.

You may feel productive one day and not the next; accept that each day is different. Do not underestimate the power of doing nothing, learn to be ‘okay’ with just being. Show compassion to yourself and others, recognizing everyone is going through this as best they can, in their own way.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC Director of Clinical Services

Should I Talk to a Therapist?

A healthy mindset is an essential component to overall wellness. If there are personal, interpersonal, or environmental challenges affecting your outlook and mental health, you can be held back from an overall fulfilled life. We all experience ups and downs, and engaging in therapy, whether for recurring downs or a short-term situation or crisis, can bring personal emotional growth and a more satisfying life.

If you are experiencing any of the following challenges, consider reaching out and making an appointment with a therapist:

  • Relationship & Family Challenges

Do you find yourself often annoyed or arguing with your partner? Are you having trouble communicating with your children? Do you have trouble setting boundaries with family?

  • Grieving the loss of a loved one

Have you experienced loss? Loss can be more than the passing of a loved one, it could be an estrangement or illness that has changed the lifestyle of our loved one. Loss can lead to feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness and isolation.

  • Depression

Depression can look like many things – feeling excessively tired, isolated, sad, an overall loss of interest in things you once enjoyed and difficulty concentrating. If you can identify that one or more of these symptoms is affecting your day to day life, it can be a sign of depression.

Similar to depression, chronic anxiety can show itself in many ways – worrying, constantly thinking about past situations, overthinking and catastrophizing (thinking the worst will occur in current or future situations)

  • Trauma

Trauma deeply affects individuals who experience it and can be from domestic violence, sexual abuse or assault, life threatening incidents or other negative impactful events.

  • Immigration Concerns

The fear of deportation – for an individual or for their loved one – can deeply impact day to day mental health. 

  • Medical Issues

Dealing with the diagnosis of a serious illness for yourself or a loved one or the responsibility of caring for a family member with a serious illness or chronic condition can be very draining on one’s mental wellbeing.

If you are ready to look for a therapist in your area, JFCS is here for residents of Mercer County to provide individual, compassionate care with licensed therapists. Our therapists can help you through the difficult times. Consider making that call to take a step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Are You Looking for Help with Anxiety?

Does your heart beat faster ahead of that big test or presentation at work? Do your palms get sweaty when confronted with an overwhelming task or looming event?

If anxiety is impacting your day to day life, it is important to recognize the signs as well as your triggers. Signs of anxiety can include intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations (Did I reply to that email? Did that person misunderstand my tone? Did I pay that bill? Should I have said something different to my child/spouse/coworker/friend?); fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and sometimes feeling tired.

Common triggers for anxiety include existing and/or ongoing health issues, financial problems, negative thinking, stress, social events, school or employment.

In order to cope with recurring anxiety it can be beneficial to eat balanced meals, exercise, and limit alcohol and caffeine intake.

When you find yourself in a moment of heightened anxiety, try these approaches:

4 – 7 – 8 Breathing Exercise:

The following steps should be carried out in the cycle of a single breath

First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.

Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.

Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.

Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.

The Five Senses Exercise:

Take a breath and look around you, wherever you are, try to notice…

5 things that you can see,

4 things that you can feel,

3 things that you can hear,

2 things that you can smell,

And 1 thing you can taste.

This technique can help focus your senses on your surroundings instead of your anxiety.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

Identify a specific muscle group – your hands, arms, neck, shoulder – and hold that muscle tense for five seconds then release. Work head-to-toe, tensing and releasing your muscles. By honing in on each group, you will better understand all of the muscles that can be affected by anxiety.

When you’re feeling anxious on a regular basis, about recurring commitments or events, a long-term option to help reduce your symptoms is journaling. Journaling can be narrative, as in jotting down a few experiences you had during the day and how those events, interactions or moments of inspiration made you feel. You can also try gratitude journaling, making a note of the things you experience during the day for which you are grateful. You can choose and vary how long that list is each day and how much detail you want to write.

What if journaling and breathing exercises are not helping?

Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life, however, anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. If symptoms interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, or relationships, the best step for you is to seek therapeutic services.

When is it Time to Talk to a Therapist?

The world we live in is quite stressful. When life feels a little out of control either because you are feeling a depressed or anxious or believe that anxiety and depression are causing problems in your life, our therapists can assist you in building the skills to get back on track.

Anxiety:  How are you going to pay the rent, get promoted, help your child…when these thoughts run through your head it can cause a significant amount of stress and anxiety that keeps you in a state of panic. This anxiety can make you uncomfortable and possibly shut you down from moving forward. We understand and can help you start to put systems in place to not only make your situation better but also relax into enjoying life.

Depression:  Everyone is sad every now and again…and a few days can be normal. But if you suffer from prolonged periods of sadness, it is time to talk to a professional. Depression looks like many things and our counselors help those in the Greater Mercer County area start to move forward a bit and combat or at least learn to deal with the sadness and lead a happy and productive life.

Couples Therapy: Marriage and relationships, in general, can be difficult to navigate at times. All marriages have bumps in the road including infertility, financial struggles, differences of opinions in raising children.  It can be tough. Sometimes talking through your issues with a marriage counselor can work wonders. Without taking sides our psychologists can help you and your significant other some different ways to communicate to ease tension and focus on building your loving relationship. 

When you are looking for a therapist there may be a crisis that you or your entire family is trying to handle. And if you are looking for a provider who accepts your insurance, those options are even more limited. Here in Mercer County, NJ, our therapists can help with a variety of issues and provide coping skills to get your life back on track. We are able to take most private insurance plans as well as those with Medicare, Medicaid and the uninsured.

The day to day of life may seem overwhelming to manage and we are here to help. 

Don’t Let Back to School Be Back to Bullying

Don’t Let Back to School Be Back to Bullying.

For many children, the anxiety of a new school year is not of nervous excitement but severe concern of potential bullying.

We live in a society where bullying is prevalent among authority figures, adults in the workplace, and even at home.  Helping your child identify what bullying is, informing them of the best actions to take when facing a bully or witnessing the behavior, and acting as a role model can mitigate the impact of bullying.

What Does Bullying Look Like?

There are many different types of bullying; physical, verbal, psychological, cyberbullying, sexting, sexual, and/or targeting others based on their religion, ethnicity, race and/or sexual orientation.  Bullying is NOT the occasional teasing or name calling, bullies engage in frequent, ongoing attacks aimed at controlling, humiliating, and hurting others.  Any child can be bullied, and many children who have been victimized by others, become bullies in turn.

You’re No Bully, But Are You a Bystander?

Bullies and victims are the minority in comparison to the bystander.  A bystander watches bullying, both face-to-face incidents and cyberbullying, and does not intervene to deescalate the situation, help the victim or report the behavior.  Bystanders enable bullying by sending a message that they accept the behavior.

What Can I Do To Send The Right Message To My Children?

  • Be a role model. Be mindful of how you act towards others including peers, other parents, co-workers, family members and spouses. Children pick up on the behaviors of those around them.
  • Do not tolerate bullying in your family. Teach siblings positive ways to manage difficult emotions so they do not lash out at each other.
  • Do not minimize bullying. If your child reports an incident of bullying, do not brush it aside, whether they are the victim, the bystander, or the bully.  Teach children how bullying impacts the feelings and self-worth of victims.
  • Be anti-bully. Teach your children to discourage the bully. Educate your children in safe methods of supporting the victim without engaging the bully or giving into their attention.  Encourage your child to reach out to victims and have others do the same.
  • Be informed on resources. As a parent, understand what your child’s school is required to do in bullying situations and advocate for your child.

If you or your child is struggling with the effects of bullying or you are concerned your child is exhibiting bully behavior, JFCS can help.  JFCS offers confidential counseling for individuals and families for a range of concerns including anxiety, self-esteem, coping and more. Contact our offices at 609-987-8100.

Where Can You Learn More?



JFCS Earns a 4-Star Rating from Charity Navigator

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County is proud to announce that we have received Charity Navigator’s top rating of 4 stars.

Charity Navigator is an online rating system that donors can use to intelligently decide where their money is best directed. The 4-Star rating means that JFCS has passed a stringent vetting and has come out fulfilling all of the necessary requirements for the award.

A 4-star rating from Charity Navigator proves that JFCS is an exceptional charity and that we exceed industry standards and outperform most charities in our category.

Of note, The New York Times quoted Sandra Miniutti, a spokeswoman for Charity Navigator, as saying “Generally, a good benchmark for a worthwhile charity is having at least 75 percent of income spent on programs, or the nonprofit’s mission.” You will be happy to know that JFCS spends 89.6% of every donated dollar on programs and services for the local, Mercer County community.

We thank our loyal donors and hope future donors will take this information and choose JFCS as their charity of choice.