Kids and families have been through a lot lately. Hyper-partisan politics, extreme political ideologies, racial and religious tensions and violence, the pandemic, and a dysfunctional congress. We have watched an attack by Hamas, Gaza’s governing authority, where more than 1,400 Israelis - men, women, children, and babies - were slaughtered and more than 240 people taken hostage, their fates unknown. This has touched off a war where children and families have been killed - and it is likely that many more will be.

We are also seeing a significant increase in antisemitism and, to a lesser degree, Islamophobia here in the United States. And we all worry about the potential of the United States being dragged into yet another war.

Exposure to violence. Exposure to a world where the basic fabric seems to be tearing. Exposure to extremism where people don’t agree on basic facts. All of this leads to acute anxiety, anger, and irrational thought.

I can feel it and I bet you can too. A heightened baseline of anxiety, and underlying sense of dread, the temptation to blame, your mind wanting to simplify problems and paint with a broad brush, periods of feeling hopeless and exasperation.

And our staff at Beech Brook are seeing it in the kids we are working with, which makes our mental health services all the more critical.

This year, in our yet to be released outcomes report, we have seen higher levels of clinically elevated scores for problem severity and a higher percentage of children with clinically low functioning scores. This is not a coincidence. Children who are exposed to violence on a regular basis often experience many of the same symptoms and lasting effects as children who are victims of violence themselves. These kids can feel emotional and physical "aftershocks" for months or even years.

Some children exposed to violence learn to resolve their own conflicts in a violent manner. Others seem to become desensitized to violence and the pain and distress of others. Some retreat into a shell, avoiding people and the world around them.

The American Psychological Association recently released a statement warning that consuming violent and traumatic news, such as reports about the situation in Israel and Gaza, negatively affects our mental health.

Fear, anxiety and traumatic stress have long term effects on health and well-being. These impacts are felt not just by those who have families and friends in regions experiencing violence, but by others as well.

As always, I want to thank our courageous staff who are helping children and families work through some of the most troubling times in recent memory and those staff who support them. World events impact our staff just like everyone else, but our staff are tasked with not only maintaining their own good mental health but helping others as well.

But here's the good news - Beech Brook's most recent outcomes report shows we are having a positive impact on both the severity of the problems seen in the children we work with and in their ability to function. Beech Brook is meeting, or exceeding, state benchmarks for the percentage of kids who are showing meaningful improvement in their mental health.

In our Family Center programs, families report that they are doing better and have a better understanding of how to deal with stress in their lives. Most parents completing a Family Center program improved their knowledge and beliefs about parenting, their ability to safely channel aggression, their knowledge of early child development, and decreased the amount of perceived stress in their lives!

Our outcomes show that the vast majority of children and youth are satisfied with Beech Brook’s services.

Close to half of children and parents reported greater levels of hopefulness in their lives at the end of services than they did at the start of services. This might be the most important thing that Beech Brook can do in this time of turmoil. Bring hope to children and families lives, that the world will become a better place and our position in this world will also improve, that children and families will thrive! That is what we have done since 1852 and what we will continue to do regardless of struggles the world imposes upon us now or in the future.

Parents have to talk with their kids about what is happening around the world, so here are a few ways to begin the conversation.

Talking with your kids about the violence or traumatic experiences:

  • Talk to your children – don’t just avoid the issue. Explain to kids in an age-appropriate way, what is happening. To ensure trust and to help them feel comfortable talking to you, consider asking what they have heard, what they know, and how they feel.
  • Give children space to ask questions. Listen and really hear.
  • Limit media exposure.
  • Reassure children that they are safe.
  • Be transparent and honest.
  • Talk about bad actions, not bad people.
  • Highlight the helpers, those who are helping those affected.

And you need to take care of yourself, too!

How to protect our mental health with incoming updates on worldwide political violence

  • Name your feelings.
  • Be mindful of your own reactions and feelings.
  • Model and teach healthy coping skills.
  • Get moving. Take a walk, get outdoors, exercise.
  • Challenge a sense of hopelessness. Take action through volunteering for a cause important to you.
  • Make stress reduction a priority. Take care of yourself. Relax. Get sleep. 5 minutes of mindful meditation can go a long way.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Stay connected with others. Know you are not alone. Connect with family, friends or like-minded community.

- Thomas P. Royer, Beech Brook President & CEO

Read more "Thoughts from the CEO" on topics ranging from the impact of the overturning over Roe vs. Wade on our community to the youth suicide crisis.

Thoughts from the CEO

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