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Mental Health Awareness Month: Peers helping families navigate the system for better support

Posted at 6:23 PM, May 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-09 18:23:18-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Mental health concerns among children increased during the pandemic.

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, peer advocacy groups are sharing that the issue can affect anyone, even some of the youngest among us.

"I wish I had it when my child was younger. I wish I would have known. That's part of why we're out there and really working hard in Mental Health Awareness Month, although we do it every month of the year, to really get the word out that these services are here," Stacie Dziwulski said.

Over the last two years, it has come to the forefront.

Dziwulski is the Family Peer Advocate Child & Family Support Program director for Mental Health Advocates of Western New York.

"I hear it when I talk to families everyday. I'll start talking to them, they'll tell me what's going on and I'll sort of say, 'That sounds like my son.' You can hear them relax. You can just hear it over the phone. You can hear their shoulders sort of relax and go, 'Oh my gosh, you're somebody that's been there. You understand. You're the first person I've talked to that really listened to me," Dziwulski said.

Children lost the much-needed socialization piece in their everyday lives, the advocacy group emphasized.

Second grader Tiffinie Tillis works with dean of students Andrea Keck while visiting a sensory room at Quincy Elementary School, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. The rooms are designed to relieve stresses faced by students as they return to classrooms amid the ongoing pandemic. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

"One of the biggest challenges recently is just getting the kids back in school. They've been back in school since fall, but a lot of them still struggle. It's really hard for our students to get back to normalcy," Dziwulski said.

They are hoping to help families with small children be proactive, and to know how to navigate the system in order to get support.

"Our families are trying to find supports for their children and sometime there may be a little bit of a waiting list. We can come in here as family peer advocates. All of us on our staff are parents of people that have had mental health challenges in their life," Dziwulski said.

All of their family peer advocates are New York State certified. They are not clinical, just peers helping families walk the walk.

"We actually can bill for Medicaid for our services, which was a real testament to the importance of our work, that Medicaid saw and insurances saw that this is a wonderful tool for families. This is a great support and service," she shared.

Statistics from trusted research and medical centers:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) facts about children's mental health can be found here.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health explains when to seek treatment for your child, here.
  • The Mayo Clinic detailing the signs of a mental health needs among children, here.