May is Mental Health Awareness Month, We’re Together for Mental Health 

Each year, May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month to shine a light on the importance of mental health care – something we have all recognized over the past two difficult years. This year’s theme is “Together for Mental Health.” 

What does it mean to be together for mental health? 

At JFCS, we are united in the belief that mental health care has a place in all programs and services; and, with counseling being one of our core programs, our agency has a responsibility to promote mental healthcare to the community, provide resources, and join in the push to end the stigma surrounding mental healthcare and mental illness. 

In February, we shared a video that highlighted our specific mental health services – the counseling department as well as support groups. Yet we are tuned into the emotional and psychological needs of all we serve, from the families using our food pantry, to the seniors receiving geriatric care management, to the youth participating in our programs. 

Counseling Department

Is it helpful to have internal resources to refer your client, for more well-rounded mental health support?

Having internal access to agency resources to refer to clients, such as the food pantry, is an invaluable resource to offer to clients due to food insecurity rates that have significantly increased for many families due to the pandemic. Clients have provided great feedback and a sense of gratitude for having the ability to access nutritious foods in a dignified manner that normalizes the community’s need for the use of an agency food pantry.

Furthermore, being a part of agency that offers group workshops and marital counseling allows clients to gain access to these services without having to contact an outside agency and having to experience long waitlists elsewhere. Having accessibility for the aforementioned agency resources, allows me to meet client needs in an effortless manner and reduced time spent on case management services. 

~Arlene Munoz, LSW Bilingual Social Worker

It is helpful because once the client has built trust and rapport with their social worker, they will be comfortable utilizing another reputable JFCS service. Having the ability to access identified resources within the Agency removes barriers when coordinating services. 

~Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC Director of Clinical Services

  

How important is mental health sensitivity in your program? 

Each client reacts to situations in their own unique way. Our social workers have the required sensitivity and understanding to support a client with diverse interventions that best suit their needs.

~Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC Director of Clinical Services

Food Programs

How does mental health play a role in your program?

We know that food insecurity = stress and anxiety. Imagine not having enough food for you or your family? The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry truck and our onsite pantry offers a bit of mental health support by providing much needed nourishment – for the body and the soul.

~Beth Englezos, Manager of Hunger Prevention

Senior Services

How important is mental health sensitivity in your program?

Being aware of stressors and validating feelings is critical. Clients need to feel “heard” and not be embarrassed or judged when expressing feelings or describing circumstances that are challenging.

~Beth Hammer, LCSW Geriatric Care Manager

Is it helpful to have internal resources to refer your client, for more well-rounded mental health support?

It is essential to have both internal and external referral sources to give to clients. Knowing there are various agency and community resources available can ensure that individuals receive the appropriate assistance they may require.

~Beverly Mishkin, LCSW Director of Senior Services

Teen Programs

How does mental health play a role in your program?

Gesher LeKesher benefits the Mental Health of our Madrichim in a number of ways. We introduce many useful resources including JFCS and the Crisis Text Line if they or someone they know is struggling with Mental Health. Our teen leaders also lead a unit to the Talmidim on the topic of selfcare. Program participants also roleplay and discuss red flag mental health behaviors and ways to respond when a person you know is struggling with mental health.

~Celeste Albert, LCSW Coordinator of Teen Programs

Volunteering

What role does mental health sensitivity play in your program?

In order to be most effective, agency volunteers need to communicate with clients with an awareness and understanding that the client may be suffering from mental or emotional issues.  

How does your program benefit clients’ mental health?

From delivering food to making check-in phone calls, every service that JFCS volunteers offer serves to improve the mental health of the client. They are also trained to note any changes or issues that may be of concern and immediately report back to the appropriate JFCS team member.

How does your program benefit volunteers’ mental health?

Research has repeatedly shown tremendous benefits to volunteers who spend time helping others. Time after time, JFCS volunteers arrive with positive energy and a willingness to do whatever is needed. Helping others surely proves to help oneself.

~Eden Aaronson, Coordinator of Volunteers & Community Programs

What can you do personally to rally behind the call for “Together for Mental Health”? 

Visit the NAMI Mental Health Awareness Month Resource page to learn more. Help advocate for a better mental health care system, share your story to help inspire others and defeat the stigma around mental health care and mental illness, and learn more about mental health using their education resources. 

Resources for Supporting Ukraine & Coping with Crisis

How to Support

The Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks established a Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund to provide critical assistance to more than 200,000 Jews in Ukraine. Thank you to those who have already joined this effort. Please support the most vulnerable.

CLICK TO DONATE

The emergency campaign dollars will go to American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to support on-the-ground humanitarian effort.

How to  Talk to About Crisis and Cope

The war in Ukraine has triggered strong emotions for many of us. If you are feeling anger, fear, anxiety, depression, or helplessness, you are not alone. For many, it is the first time watching such horrors unfold in their lifetime. For some, these images and videos can be triggers from past trauma.

It is in our physiological nature as human beings to feel some amount of empathy and sorrow for others dealing with a traumatic event. Even though we’re not physically present, we still feel the mental health effects of what’s going on. We may not be able to diminish these emotions, but there are ways to make them more manageable.

How to cope will depend entirely on what works best for you. Below are some suggestions that you may find helpful:

  • Limit your time watching/listening to the news.  Repeated exposure to this kind of content can be distressing or numbing. 
  • Relieve some of that anxiety and tension by gently moving your body. This could mean going for a walk, doing some light stretching, taking an online yoga class, or whatever it is that helps you feel good.
  • Self-compassion. Ask yourself: What are you feeling, both emotionally and physically? This may include a quick head-to-toe body scan. Try using words to identify and name these feelings, like “I​’m feeling helpless, and it feels like there is a pit in my stomach.” Try your best to just witness these feelings rather than talking yourself out of them or trying to change them.
  • Coloring can relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala. It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. This generates mindfulness and quietness, which allows your mind to get some rest.

Additional Resources on how to talk about the crisis and cope:

As always, if you feel you are withdrawing from others, or feeling intense emotions that are affecting daily functioning, please reach out to talk to one of our professional staff at JFCS​ by calling 609-987-8100.

Addressing anxiety & fear in the face of threats of violence in schools

Today’s threat on TikTok for potential school violence has spurred widespread concern and anxiety. NJ Gov. Phil Murphy has stated, “While there are no known specific threats against New Jersey schools, the safety of our children is our highest priority and we will work closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and remain prepared.” However, many of us are still facing feelings of unease and stress whether you are a parent, a student, an educator, a school staff member, a relative of anyone in a school setting, or simply concerned for your community.

Threats or acts of violence that occur in schools can cause a great deal of confusion and fear in our children who start to worry about their own safety and the safety of their friends and family. 

Knowing how to have a conversation with your child or teen about school safety is critical and can play an important role in easing fears and anxieties about their personal safety. How do you address these fears and keep them feeling safe in school and at home? Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Talk honestly with your child or teen about your own feelings modeling that they are not dealing with their fears alone.
  • Validate your child’s feelings. “Validating” means giving your child or teen that all-important, and seemingly elusive, message that “your feelings make sense.”
  • Empower your child to take action regarding school safety. Encourage them to report incidents such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide. Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run anti-violence programs.
  • Support your child’s efforts to work out scary thoughts and feelings through play, drawing, or other activities

Lastly, watch for warning signs that your child may suffer from anxiety. Some common reactions to anxiety are:  

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Frequent nightmares or not being able to sleep
  • Changes in eating habits which could include loss of appetite or overeating
  • Lack of focus or ability to pay attention
  • Separation anxiety or unusual clinginess.

If symptoms should persist for more than six weeks or disrupts your child or teen’s daily routine, it is recommended that you seek professional help. JFCS can provide you the necessary support; please call 609-987-8100 Ext 102.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC Director of Clinical Services

JFCS: Moving Forward into 2022 with Help, Hope and Healing

The end of year is always a time to reflect and set goals for the year ahead. JFCS is sharing inspiring stories of how our programs have helped the individuals, families and community we serve move forward after another challenging year for all.

Valerie’s Journey of Healing…

Valerie reached out to JFCS after recognizing the severity of the anxiety and depression she was experiencing. After making the commitment to counseling and putting new skills into action, Valerie felt empowered to address the root of her most severe symptoms – low self-esteem caused by lack of boundaries in challenging relationships. By tackling the causes of her anxiety and depression, Valerie soon felt confident to move forward from therapy.

“My counselor was exceptional and did an excellent job listening without judgment and providing professional support. I am extremely grateful for this experience and am looking forward to moving past my anxiety.”

Helping Arthur and Ruth Move Forward with Confidence…

The JFCS senior service team received a call from Arthur, who lives out of state, and was concerned about his 90 year-old mother who lives alone in the Princeton community. While the son was in town, one of our geriatric care managers scheduled an appointment to meet with both Arthur and his mother, Ruth. The care manager did a thorough assessment including home safety, social supports, meal shopping/preparation and transportation options. A plan of care was developed to address these issues. Arthur left for home feeling like a “weight had been lifted from his shoulders.”

He knew he was no longer alone to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. JFCS receives many calls like this and our expert team of geriatric care managers is available to provide guidance and support to those in similar situations.

Melinda Finds Hope at the Pantry…

Melinda is a grandmother who serves as the primary guardian to both grandsons. She lives on a fixed income and is the full-time caregiver to both children, one of whom has significant physical special needs, requiring in-home therapy and care. It is difficult for Melinda to get out of the house, but thankfully, she is in counseling with one of our JFCS therapists who referred her to the pantry team. Our pantry team was able to identify one of our local mobile food pantry stops where Melinda can easily and conveniently pick up groceries. Melinda was also able to receive gift cards through the LIGHTS program so she could purchase holiday gifts for her grandsons, something out of reach without this support.

“With a resource coming right to my neighborhood, it is a huge relief. I face serious financial challenges as the sole caregiver for my grandsons, and I am so appreciative of any help. Even the smallest gesture makes a big difference in our lives.”

Stories like those of Valerie, Arthur, Ruth and Melinda are just some examples of the impact we have made, together, over the past year. You can read further about how JFCS has served the community this year in our latest Annual Report.

We thank all of those who have supported us, especially in these ongoing, challenging times. We hope you can once again trust JFCS to care for those in need with an end of year gift. Help us move into the new year with help, hope & healing.

IN THE NEWS: Volunteering Can Have Positive Impacts on Recipients and Volunteers

Princeton Perspectives recently shared a feature about the positive impact of volunteering, not only for the community and those who benefit from social services, but for those who are providing volunteer service.

JFCS’s own Director of Clinical Services, Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC, and Volunteer Coordinator, Eden Aaronson provided their perspectives on how volunteer has added to the lives of those who support JFCS.

Read the full article here.

Virtual Bereavement Group Ahead of the Holidays

When so many traditions and observances are focused around the gathering of family and friends, it can be especially hard to celebrate when grieving the loss of a loved one. Our Handling the Holidays series is held ahead of the major Jewish holidays, Passover, Yom Kippur & Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah, to help those who are grieving.

Light in the Midst of Darkness: Chanukah for those who are bereaved

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2021 | 2:30 – 3:30 PM | VIA ZOOM

 

 

Join for a one-time virtual support group to help you through the dark days of this difficult year. Facilitated by Chaplain Beverly Rubman.

No fee to attend, advance registration required.

 

CLICK TO REGISTER

Stigma and the Words We Choose

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 35% of Americans who experience serious mental illness do not receive treatment; when we focus on those who experience substance use disorders the number is closer to 90% (Volkow et al., 2021). Given these high numbers it is crucial that we look for ways to remove barriers to accessing mental health care. While we often hear messages that promote the importance of mental health, there is also a long history in our society of treating mental illness and substance use as evidence of personal or moral failure. If we genuinely care about reducing the burden of mental illness on individuals, families, and society, then we must acknowledge that the stigma created by this mindset of mental illness and substance use as a character flaw can lead to barriers in accessing treatment for many people.

The language we use in our everyday lives can play a role in either adding to or reducing stigma around mental illness and substance use. For example, casual usage of words like “crazy’, “insane’, or “psycho” as pejorative descriptors in common conversation minimizes the significant challenges of those who experience mental illness and underscores the narrative that those with mental illness are somehow less worthy of being treated with respect and dignity.

Words used to describe people can influence not only how they view themselves but also the treatments they are offered. Studies have repeatedly shown that when patients are described as substance “abusers” or “addicts” physicians and other mental health clinicians are more likely to recommend punitive measures, such as jail time, instead of mental health treatment (Volkow et al., 2021). Using a term such as “substance use disorder” is clinically accurate and avoids the use of stigmatizing terms like “abuse” and “addiction”.

Many disability advocacy groups indicate a preference for the use of Person First Language (PFL) over the use Identify First Language (IFL) when describing diagnoses or disabilities that people experience. Using Person First Language to describe someone as a “person with Alcohol Use Disorder” instead of using Identity First Language to describe them as an “Alcoholic”, removes judgment and recognizes that the person is more than their diagnosis. However, not all populations have embraced Person First Language, and we should strive to use the terms preferred by those who experience a particular disability. One notable exception to the preference for Person First Language over Identity First Language relates to autism self-advocacy. In alignment with the Neurodiversity Movement, Identity First Language such as “autistic person” is overwhelmingly preferred by many autistic adults who consider the usage of Person First Language such as “person with autism” to be stigmatizing and invalidating of their lived experiences (Robison, 2019). They view autism as is intrinsic to their identity, not something that needs to be cured.

While it is always important to focus on the person not their diagnosis, it is also important to honor preferences about how certain individuals and populations prefer to describe themselves. The words we choose can either perpetuate stigma or honor the experiences of those who are struggling and need support.

Sarah Valerio, Clinical MSW Intern

References:

Robison, J.E. (2019), Talking about autism—thoughts for researchers. Autism Research, 12: 1004-1006. 

Volkow, N. D., Gordon, J. A., & Koob, G. F. (2021). Choosing appropriate language to reduce the stigma around mental illness and substance use disorders. Neuropsychopharmacology.

Why Do I Feel Bad? Understanding Unjustified Guilt

Guilt is a normal, healthy emotion. Experiencing it when you’ve hurt someone or when you’ve made a mistake is a good sign—it means you have a conscience. But sometimes, you may experience unjustified guilt.

Unjustified guilt is when people punish themselves even though circumstances are out of their control, or they did not deliberately hurt anyone.

In the context of the pandemic, we are living in a period where we are reminded daily that our actions have consequences. There are several factors during this pandemic that have made us more vulnerable to unjustified guilt: guilt surrounding bereavement; guilt that your job is secure, or you are in a safe position, while others are not; guilt over parenting decisions; guilt because you cannot do more to directly help others; guilt after going to a social gathering; guilt for not going to a social gathering…the list goes on.

So, what can we do to avoid future guilt?

You may not be able to control the fact that you experience guilt, but you can control how you respond to it.

It is important to acknowledge that you are feeling guilty and identify the reason, then recognize the negative critical thoughts which can lead to a distorted idea of what happened or disproportionate levels of guilt. Try and reframe those negative thoughts with something you would say to a friend if they were going through a similar situation. If speaking to a friend, you would point out the good things they have done, remind them of their strengths, and how much you value them. You deserve this same kindness.

Be gentle with yourself. The ability to look at a situation from another’s perspective is incredibly powerful. It triggers a different set of emotions, the foundation of empathy that you need to be easier on yourself.

If you’re feeling guilty after a specific action, pause and evaluate what you can do differently in the future. It may help to identify what values you want to live by during the pandemic, even writing them down, so you can refer to them when if a situation arises. Remind yourself that you are doing this for your physical and mental safety which is another way of taking care of yourself.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

How to Create Boundaries for Your Mental Health

The COVID-19 vaccine provides reassurances in keeping us physically protected, yet it does not automatically reduce or eliminate our anxiety, change in that way is going to take time and patience after all we have endured the past 18 months. Everyone is moving at their own pace when it comes to post quarantine; some folks have jumped at the chance to see a movie, go out to dinner, attend a sports event, or host a dinner party. For others, even if they are fully vaccinated, they are experiencing anxiety about relaxing their safety protocols. It is important to recognize and respect that we all have a pace that works best for ourselves.

So, how do you stay in your comfort zone and move at your own pace during this pandemic phase? This may be a perfect time to set and maintain boundaries that make you feel comfortable.

First, decide where you would like to draw the line for you and your immediate household. Do you feel comfortable asking about vaccine status? Do you feel comfortable with an outdoor, distanced, or masked get-together? Once you have discussed and made decisions, communicate this information clearly and with no apologies to your family/friends. 

Second, hold no judgment. It is not uncommon to have different opinions than your family or friends about moving out of quarantine. Using judgmental language or labels is not productive to having open and understanding relationships. Instead, use “I” statements to emphasize your needs rather than the ways you disagree with other’s choices. Centering your statement on yourself helps to take the sense of blame or negativity from the other person so they will not feel defensive. Last, practice what you are going to say so you can present your stance clearly and respectfully. Always remember, you have the right to make your own decisions and set boundaries that make you feel safe and comfortable.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

Our Year in Review: Celebrating Community & Stories of Impact

JFCS was thrilled to host an almost “normal” Annual Meeting on June 1, welcoming staff, Board and community award winners and their families to an outdoor celebration held at JCC Abrams Camp.

We took the opportunity to recognize staff anniversaries, celebrate the winners of the Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Mensch Awards, and present our annual awards to community partners. We also reflected on the past year, sharing stories of impact across our programs, and what stories are coming in the next year.

View a short recap of the full event below:

2021 Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Mensch Awards

8th Grade Mensch-in-Training:

Zachary Miller

12th Grade Mensch Award Winners:

Jeremy Brandspiegel

Yoni Livstone

Mark Sheffield

2021 JFCS Community Award Winners

Tzedakah Award Winner:

Ilana Scheer

Kehillah Award Winner:

The Big Thinkers Group

Gemilut Chasadim Award Winner:

Hayley Aaronson