In January of this year, Jewish Family Service Youth Mental Health (YMH) program quadrupled in size when Director Leah Marcus brought on three talented social workers to join her efforts: Amanda Cramer, Nina Pridonoff, and Kasey Rosswurm. “Kasey, Nina, and Amanda are such a fantastic team,” Marcus said. “They are very energetic and have worked together so well. I couldn't pick a better group of people to do this critical work.” The camaraderie and enthusiasm has helped the team quickly hone in on the work at hand: addressing youth mental health needs in the community.
Toward the end of 2019, Jewish Family Service (JFS) began an internal strategic planning process that, in turn, led to the development of JFS’s 2019–2022 Strategic Plan. This plan identified youth mental health as a serious concern for Jewish Cincinnati, and when the Cincinnati 2030 Planning Survey (the Jewish community’s long-term vision assessment) confirmed that it was a growing yet unmet need, JFS began searching for ways the situation could be improved. One solution was to grow the mental health services JFS provides, and the January expansion of the Youth Mental Health team reflected this push. While the team of clinicians provides professional-level therapy and counseling, one of their main objectives is to serve as a liaison to long-term help for teenagers and young adults who need it.
Another solution has been for each new team member to become a trusted, reliable, familiar presence in the community. “That's really the first step to reducing the barriers around accessing care,” Marcus noted. “When we're embedded in the places where people already feel comfortable—their synagogues, their schools, their youth groups, or even when we volunteer at Purim carnivals, or attend a community Shabbat dinner at the Hillel—all that makes us more accessible to people, and normalizes the idea that mental health professionals are okay. We're the extra hands on deck in those environments. We can sit with that young person and say, ‘Hey, what's going on? What's happening? We're here to help.’ And that can make a big difference.”
“We will now be able to lead in-person, Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings in the community, and that will allow us greater flexibility and opportunity to provide that training to all of our community.”
—Leah Marcus, Director, Youth Mental Health Services
A third solution has been the start of “Youth Mental Health First Aid” trainings across Jewish Cincinnati. These sessions teach effective, proactive strategies to support the mental wellness of children, teens, and young adults. JFS Youth Mental Health Services has funded the training of roughly 30 educators in the Cincinnati Jewish community and is planning several more trainings this year. “Just as physical first aid training teaches how to give an injured person treatment before professional medical aid is available,” Marcus explained, “Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches people to be that first line of defense in the event that a child or teenager is experiencing a mental health crisis.”
Until recently, the JFS Youth Mental Health team coordinated these training sessions, but they did not lead the training, themselves. In early May, which is National Mental Health Awareness month, all four JFS youth mental health clinicians were certified to lead such training. Marcus explained why this is so important. “We will now be able to lead in-person, Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings in the community,” she said, “and that will allow us greater flexibility and opportunity to provide that training to all of our community.”
Marcus believes these early steps she and her team have taken are only the beginning: “We're already engaged with 45 or 50 percent of our Jewish communal organizations, which is fantastic. But I also know we can deepen and broaden those connections, and be an important resource to our community. By working together, we can reduce stigmas that surround mental health so that more kids will get the counseling they need and fewer will suffer unnecessary pain.”