We recently spoke with Marlene A. Schillinger, President/CEO of Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, about the current need for mental health services in our community.

Q: Has your agency seen an increase in requests for mental health services?

Our inquiries and intakes for mental health services are consistent.  We see an escalation in inquires and intakes during certain times of the year.  For example, in March and the beginning of April we will see a spike in inquiries and intakes during March Madness.  People of all ages, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds try to make up their sports betting loses. When they don’t, people become interested in our Gambling Recovery program.  Women in particular may suffer physical and emotional abuse from significant others when they are unable to cover their losses. Both cohorts will look for services. Parents may look for services when they realize their child stole their credit card, gambled and lost money on the Internet.

When a young member or adolescent of the community completes suicide or a famous person or people like Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade complete suicide, we see an increase in a need for information and intakes. As soon as the public highlights an actor or actress who may have an eating disorder, again people will look for services because they may recognize they may have a challenge or a parent will become aware of a problem.

Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County [JFS] is a nonsectarian, not for profit, community-based health and social service provider that has served its community since 1862. JFS offers a broad range of complementary, integrated services delivered by highly qualified professionals in psychiatry, psychology, nursing, social work and rehabilitation counseling; committed volunteers and community contributors.

Q: What effect does stigma have in the workplace?

No matter where you work or go to school, stigma and discrimination are credible fears.  Adolescents, adults and seniors have difficulty functioning. Certain schools or work environments may increase or exacerbate stress, anxiety and/or depression. Youth, adolescents and college students miss school threatening positive educational outcomes. It has been documented that adults may miss 2–3 days a month of work leading to poor performance and impact productivity.

Q: What can employers do improve the work environment?

Negative work environments may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity. Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.

Creating a culture of physical and mental health wellness is important. Even though there are laws that protect people with mental illness the fear of stigma and discrimination is persuasive. Instituting an EAP program is important. Employees can reach out in a confidential manner to receive help for free initially. While there is cost to the employer dollars will be saved in increased productivity.

Q: What can family members and friends do to help their loved one who have a mental illness?

The subject of mental illness has been taboo for so long. It is finally recognized that people who live with mental illness are and do make incredible contributions. I recommend employers, schools, religious institutions and individuals learn about mental illness and stigma by taking a Mental Health First Aid course offered by Jewish Family Service, the Community Health Center and Compeer, Inc.