Mental health experts encouraging parents to check-in on youth mental health

Fifty percent of mental health disorders present symptoms prior to the age of fourteen.
Buffalonians crossing the street
Posted at 10:22 PM, Jan 19, 2023

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Nearly a quarter of Erie County's homeless population is under the age of 25, according to Plymouth Crossroads, a Western New York nonprofit that empowers at-risk youth.

7 News' Pheben Kassahun spoke with a behavioral health specialist who shares how parents can utilize resources to help their child have better coping mechanisms.

It is not easy being a teenager when being surrounded by the pressures and influences in today's world.

Sarah Wierzbowski of Bestself Behavioral Health wants teens to know they are never alone. She said there are ways a parent can sense if their child is struggling with their mental health.

"A parent should be looking to any changes. Maybe they are starting to isolate themselves more. They're worried about things more frequently. A drop in their grades, a change in their friend group, an increase in their anger or aggression," BestSelf Behavioral Health children's clinical services vice president, Sara Wierzbowski told Kassahun.

According to the World Health Organization, 50% of mental health disorders present symptoms prior to the age of fourteen.

Wierzbowski said there should be ongoing conversations or check-ins with the child, in the home.

Outside the home, help is available by talking to a school counselor who can connect parents with agencies.

She said parents should also be taking time to seek their own mental health services.

"I think it's important for parents to set a good example for their children and take care of themselves and notice when they are becoming overwhelmed or having a hard time with their own mental health and their own well-being," Wierzbowski said. "Taking time to seek their own mental health services or just taking time to yourself to do activities and things that are relaxing and calming for yourself and setting that positive example to your child."

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Experts worry that lack of mental health discussions could lead to teens leaving home.

BestSelf Homeless Services alone serves more than 150 homeless youths.

Trying to curb this issue, BestSelf opened up an overnight drop in center called Safe Space, at 430 Niagara Street, to provide overnight services for youths who are experiencing homelessness.

BestSelf Behavioral Health Housing director, Nadia Pizarro said, "So, they're not couch surfing or going house-to-house to dangerous places and also advocacy. Really staying on top of the community, what the needs are and advocating that those needs are met."

BestSelf's intake process includes speaking with specialists and outreach workers who go to every major shelter where homeless people frequent.

They can also help people who are at risk of homelessness.

Youth experiencing homelessness can call BestSelf at (716) 856-9711.

In a study done in 2015-2016, students on the social work department at the University at Buffalo conducted a survey on homelessness among young adults in Buffalo, between the ages of 18-24. It highlights the growing concern in the Queen City.

Pizarro added, "Connect them with legal services to stop an eviction if that's the issue to work with their landlord to stop them and make payment arrangements, access to other resources that can keep them in their home."

Bottom line, experts want youth and their families to know that help is available.

Spectrum Health C.A.R.E.S. is another avenue for kids in crisis and can be reached at (716) 882-HELP.