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News Archive 2013
Tips for the holidays from the Mayo Clinic
The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests—stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands—parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few.

But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.

Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression

When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

  3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.

  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.

  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.

  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

  8. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

  9. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

The Top 5 Things You Should Never Say at the Thanksgiving Table
by Dr. Nicole Joseph at the Discovery Fit & Health website
November 21, 2013

  1. Always/Never statements: "You never respect my decisions, Mom." Saying always/never statements can be inflammatory and can spark a longer, more conflict-ridden discussion than is warranted for a holiday. Do not re-hash the past; save it for another day.

    Instead: Say "I’m really enjoying the day and I think we should save that topic for another time."

  2. Nothing about the big three: Politics, Money, and Religion. You can plan to avoid these topics but do not expect that your family will avoid them. With this year being an election year this is especially important to be aware of. Remember: You can only control yourself and your reactions to other family members. You cannot control others!

    Instead: Be prepared and say something neutral and uniting such as: "Well, no matter how we all voted, I felt proud that Americans stood in line for such a long time to exercise their right to vote."

  3. Embarrassing Stories about Others: Although this may seem like fun to some members, others may not be as appreciative. Thanksgiving is a holiday where we may bring a new significant other to meet our families. This is not the time to bring up embarrassments when so many stresses and expectations are a part of the day.

    Instead: Prepare your family in advance if this is an issue and ask them specifically not to discuss embarrassments. If it comes up anyway, say, "Remember this is a baby story-free Thanksgiving?"

  4. Negative Family Gossip: Sometimes people inadvertently stray onto the topic of family gossip and rumors because they do not know what else to discuss.

    Instead: Redirect the conversation onto something more positive, such as: "I have an idea, why don’t we go around the table, person by person, and list what we are thankful for this year."

  5. Discussion of Eating or Drinking Habits: Thanksgiving is often a day of excess. This is not the day to comment on others’ food choices or weight. If a family member has a drinking problem that is uncomfortable, come up with a safety plan for yourself and your party, such as only going for appetizers or leaving if anyone feels uncomfortable with the climate at dinner.

    Instead: Have a safety plan and graceful exit strategy in place. They can come in handy and are also a great way to prepare in advance.

Suicide hotline starts online chat service to reach young people who don’t make phone calls
September 13, 2013
September 13, 2013

A crisis hotline volunteer working at Contact Community Services. (Dick Blume)

A Central New York suicide telephone hotline is adding an online chat service to reach out to young people who are unlikely to seek help by making phone calls.

Contact Community Services, which operates a 24-hour crisis telephone counseling and crisis hotline, will launch an online crisis chat on its website today where people can chat one-on-one with a trained counselor.

Contact has seen a steady decline in calls from young people over the past five years, said Cheryl Giarusso, the agency’s director of crisis intervention services.

"They don’t want to talk on the phone," Giarusso said. "They want to text or chat. They have their thumbs on a keyboard 24/7."

A Pew Research Center report published last year showed the median number of daily text messages sent by teens ages 12 to 17 rose from 50 in 2009 to 60 in 2011. It also showed teens have cut way back on talking on the phone.

Teens prefer online chat because it offers more anonymity and eliminates the fear of being overheard, said Wendy Stein, Contact’s communications director. People who use chat tend to reveal more than if they were talking on the phone, according to Stein. ’It’s a much safer way for them to communicate,’ she said.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15– to 24–year–olds nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contact is adding the service during national suicide awareness week.

4 things to know about suicide
  1. A suicide occurs every 14.2 minutes in the United States.
  2. While suicidal people often have mental illness, a person who considers suicide is not always mentally ill. A job loss, trauma, break-up or death of a loved one can lead anyone to thoughts of suicide.
  3. Some people believe asking a vulnerable person if he or she is considering suicide increases the danger of self-harm. Just the opposite is true. Asking the question opens up communication and lowers anxiety and the risk of an impulsive act.
  4. For help, call Contact’s hotline 315-251-0600 – or visit its online crisis chat.
Contact’s crisis chat will initially be available 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, when young people get out school. The hours will be expanded in the coming months, Giarusso said. The chat service also will eventually be linked to a chat program operated by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network. Contact is part of that network. The link will allow people in crisis to be routed to another crisis center if Contact’s chat service is not available.

Contact’s crisis hotline receives about 22,000 calls annually about suicide, depression, abuse, relationships, financial problems and other issues. The hotline is the call center for nine counties in Central and Northern New York.

If Contact’s telephone counselors believe callers are at risk of harming themselves or others they ask for permission to alert 911 so police officers can be sent to callers’ homes to help. Most callers give permission, Giarusso said. If callers refuse, counselors will notify 911 anyway, she said.

Contact will follow that same approach on its crisis chat service. If a person in crisis on chat won’t give Contact permission to send help, the agency will provide police with the individual’s Internet service provider and other information police can use to pinpoint the individual's location.

Before using chat, individuals are asked to register. They have the option of providing their name, zip code, contact information and basic details about their crisis.

While the goal of the new chat service is to reach out to more young people, it will be available to people of all ages. Contact receives most of its calls from people ages 35 to 55 and about three out of four of them are women.

To get the word out about the new service, Contact representatives will visit area schools and distribute wallet cards bearing the web address for crisis chat.

"Kids need someone to talk to," Giarusso said. "What better way to communicate with kids than with chat?"

Crisis Intervention Director on WAER
Crisis Intervention Services director Cheryl Giarrusso talks about suicide on WAER.

Contact Receives SAMHSA Grant for Suicide Services
A three-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will allow Contact Community Services to provide enhanced follow-up services to adults and youth who have seriously considered or attempted suicide.

Research shows that risk of another suicide attempt remains very high following a suicidal crisis, but immediate follow-up can keep a person safe. Contact Community Services will deliver that continuity of care to hotline callers assessed to be at moderate to high risk of suicide and patients presenting as suicidal and discharged from St. Joseph’s Hospital Comprehensive Emergency Program and Behavioral Health unit.

Systematic follow-up and assessment will save lives by increasing the client’s sense of connectedness and safety, says Cheryl Giarrusso, director of crisis intervention services for Contact. The project is also likely to reduce further hospitalizations and increase use of outpatient mental health services.

"For most callers and patients, Contact will provide bridge services until they can be seen by an outpatient mental health provider. We will also be able to help clients address barriers to accessing mental health services, such as transportation, child or elder care, or language. For some isolated clients, however, follow-up by our crisis and intervention staff may be the only other mental health services they access."

Cheryl says this grant will also help Contact reach out to special populations—including older adults, lesbian/gay/bisexual and transgender people, low-income consumers and disenfranchised veterans—and make them aware of crisis services.

The SAMHSA grant was one of only six awarded across the country to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Centers. Contact Community Services is a regional Lifeline center and responds to emergency calls to Lifeline as well as calls to its own Contact Hotline.

Follow-up services save lives

State grants will bring Contact school programming to nearly 1,000 Syracuse and North Syracuse students
June 12, 2013
Contact Community Services has been awarded two 21st Century Community Learning Center grants from New York State Education Department to serve students in the North Syracuse and Syracuse school districts. The federally-funded grants create or expand community learning centers that provide academic enrichment and youth development opportunities for students who attend schools that serve a high percentage of low-income families.

Contact will receive $622,000 annually to serve 100 third and fourth graders at Roxboro Road Elementary School and more than 300 fifth to seventh graders at Roxboro Road Middle School in Mattydale. A second $577,000 per year grant will allow Contact to provide academic and other support services to more than 500 sixth to eighth graders at Grant and Danforth middle schools in Syracuse.

Contact’s before, during and after school services will include

  • social and emotional development activities
  • health and fitness
  • career exploration
  • service learning opportunities
  • sports
  • arts and music
  • and family literacy activities
The staff will facilitate referral to mental health or health services for students and their families, and provide case management services to the highest risk students. Contact will also deliver behavioral intervention and anger replacement training workshops to the teachers and staff.

In addition, Contact Community Services will be part of the Syracuse City School District’s $1.2 million 21st Century Community Learning Center award to deliver afterschool programming to three other middle schools.

Primary Project coming to East Syracuse
Contact Community Services has received a grant from Children’s Institute to bring the Primary Project to Woodland and East Syracuse Elementary Schools, both in the East Syracuse-Minoa school district. Restructuring of the program in the Syracuse City School District will also allow us to expand from ten schools to all 19 district elementary schools. Primary Project is a school-based prevention and early intervention program for K-3rd grade students identified with school adjustment problems. Each identified student then meets weekly (for 12-15 weeks) with a a trained paraprofessional in a playroom setting. Syracuse children who participated last year showed a nearly 40 percent increase in school attendance. Next year more than 700 children will benefit from Primary Project, changing the trajectory of their school experience to success rather than defeat.

Be an LGBTQ Ally—Everyday
Kids who endure bullying for their sexuality or gender expression have allies at Syracuse’s Institute of Technology. As part of the recent Day of Silence, high school junior Juliyana VanZant showed her support by remembering LGBTQ youth both locally and across the nation who lost their lives because of bullying. The Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Juliyana displayed pictures of these young people and asked her fellow students to sign on as allies; she hung those signs between the pictures of the bullying victims. She said she wanted the display to make people look at themselves and others and see that the bullying and violence are real. Here is what she wrote about her project:

"To me the ‘Day of Silence’ (or DOS) is a day to honor those who have been bullied due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Some people such as David Hernandez or Jeffrey Fehr or even Syracuse’s very own Moses ‘Lateisha’ Green did not get this lucky and were murdered or felt they had to take their own lives due to bullying and constant harassment. On the DOS I thought these and more young teenagers should have their stories heard so that if our students or visitors in our building can realize if they are bullying someone due to who they like or if they decide to act like the opposite gender it does have effects...some stronger than others.

Be an LGBTQ Ally
Be an LGBTQ Ally

Everybody needs a friend or a support system. On the DOS we here at ITC called them allies. Everyone that supports LGBTQ rights, even if you were straight, wrote down why you are an ‘ally;’ some had family members that attempted suicide, some were LGBTQ, some were just supporting their friends. No matter what it was, it was written down and hung next to a poster of one of these desperate teens so that they know even though they think nobody in the world cares and supports them for who they are, WE DO!"

Cindy Squillace of Contact Community Services is the Student Assistance Program counselor at ITC. She said, "This display seemed to have a big impact on students and adults. They really took the time to read the stories and look at the pictures, and they were moved by the many ally signs surrounding those pictures."

Cindy is also the school advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance at ITC. Groups like that and students like Juliyana ensure that LGBTQ youth have allies all year long, not only on the Day of Silence.

Mental Health First Aid: You can help bring mental health issues "out of the shadows"
June 6, 2013
President Barack Obama has called for a national dialogue on mental illness. What can you do?

Can You Stop Texting?
Contact’s Student Assistance Program counselors recently held events at their high schools to demonstrate to students the dangers of texting and driving. They warned them to put down their phones while driving. But how about putting down their phones, even for just a day, and writing an old-fashioned letter or communicating in person? Some teens are actually trying it. Read about it here: Teens ditch texting for ‘old school’ ways of communicating .

Onondaga County Youth Development Survey Results Released
Results from a recent youth development survey of more than 6,000 students in 13 Onondaga County school districts reveal reasons to celebrate and areas of concern regarding substance use, physical health, and social behavior. For example, about two-thirds of eleventh graders chose not to drink, and 80% chose not to use marijuana within 30 days of when they were surveyed. (Last 30 days is a measure for "current use.") However, among eleventh graders who did drink (35% within the past 30 days), 94% said they did so with parental consent.

The PRIDE NYS Youth Development survey was sponsored by Contact Community Services, OCM BOCES Youth Development, Prevention Network, and the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility. It was disseminated in the fall of 2012 to seventh, ninth and eleventh grade students. The results will help community service agencies fund and make decisions about services for youth and families. View the Standard Results Report (PDF) and the Report Tables (PDF).

Mental Health News
1 in 25 U.S. teens attempts suicide, national study finds
read article online
read article (PDF)

1 in 25 U.S. teens attempts suicide, national study finds About one in 25 U.S. teens has attempted suicide, according to a new national study, and one in eight has thought about it.

Researchers said those numbers are similar to the prevalence of lifetime suicidal thinking and attempts reported by adults – suggesting the teenage years are an especially vulnerable time.

"What adults say is, the highest risk time for first starting to think about suicide is in adolescence," said Matthew Nock, a psychologist who worked on the study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The results are based on in-person interviews of close to 6,500 teens in the U.S. and questionnaires filled out by their parents. Along with asking youth about their suicidal thinking, plans and attempts, interviewers also determined which teens fit the bill for a range of mental disorders.

Just over 12 percent of the youth had thought about suicide, and four percent each had made a suicide plan or attempted suicide.

Nock and his colleagues found that almost all teens who thought about or attempted suicide had a mental disorder, including depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or problems with drug or alcohol abuse.

More than half of the youth were already in treatment when they reported suicidal behavior. Nock said that was both "encouraging" and "disturbing."

"We know that a lot of the kids who are at risk and thinking about suicide are getting (treatment)," he told Reuters Health. However, "We don’t know how to stop them – we don't have any evidence-based treatments for suicidal behavior."

Who is at risk?
Amy Brausch, a psychologist who has studied adolescent self-harm and suicide at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, said the finding shouldn’t be interpreted to mean mental health treatment doesn’t work for teens.

"We don’t know from this study if they even told their therapist they were having these thoughts, we don’t know if it was a focus of the treatment," Brausch, who wasn’t involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

The findings were published this week in JAMA Psychiatry. But they still leave many questions unanswered.

Because most youth who think about suicide never go on to make an actual plan or attempt, doctors need to get better at figuring out which ones are most at risk of putting themselves in danger, according to Nock.

Once those youth are identified, researchers will also have to determine the best way to treat them, he said – since it’s clear that a lot of current methods aren't preventing suicidal behavior.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between age 10 and 24, killing about 4,600 young people annually.

Although girls are more likely to attempt suicide – a pattern confirmed by Nock’s study – boys have higher rates of death by suicide because they typically choose more deadly methods, such as guns.

For parents, Brausch advised keeping open communication with their adolescent and not being afraid to ask about things like depression. They should also pay attention to changes in mood or behavior, she added.

Nock agreed. "For parents, if they suspect their child is thinking about suicide... or talking about death, I would have that child evaluated," he said.

Read about the High School Graduation Initiative and Contact’s role in it—Syracuse high schools make push to stem the tide of dropouts and boost the graduation rate

By Maureen Nolan, The Post Standard
Graduation is about the student’s future, but in cold, hard numbers, each student who graduates in June or who drops out along the way will have an impact on the future of Syracuse’s four traditional high schools.
read article

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