Parents, professionals, and concerned community members met Thursday evening at the Merrifield Center in Fairfax to share insights on how to help teens build resilience and coping strategies. The community forum on teen resilience was hosted by the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) with participation from Fairfax County Public Schools, Inova Kellar Center, and PRS, Inc.
The forum began with a personal presentation from Bob,* an older teen, now in recovery, who had experienced serious depression in high school. He described how the escalating pressures from varsity sports, AP courses, and the trauma of losing a close friend to suicide led to an inability to communicate as well as he once had.
“I didn’t know how to show or comprehend the pain I felt; athletes don’t show pain,” he explained. “I put up walls and isolated myself; I didn’t know how to work through it and didn’t know where to turn.”
Eventually, his parents received a call from a worried acquaintance, and the urgent call prompted immediate action.
“That call may have saved my life,” he shared. He reluctantly agreed to see a therapist which, he now realizes, “turned out to be a good move.”
“Once I was diagnosed with depression, my situation had a name, and I had to come up with a plan of action,” he recalled. “It’s not quick, one-time fix, but my parents and friends were there for me and didn’t turn their backs on me. I should’ve sought help sooner.”
He had the following suggestions for parents: “Be there for your child; listen to them and do things with your child; spend time with them. If they’re going through something tough, embrace the discomfort and work through it together. It is the only way to heal.”
Daryl Washington, CSB’s Deputy Director of Clinical Operations moderated a panel discussion on teen resilience and coping strategies. Topics included: understanding anxiety and depression, recognizing healthy boundaries, working on conflict, connecting better connect with children, and understanding what is and isn’t normal teen behavior.
Panelists included: Rick Leichtweis, Ph.D., Senior Director, Inova Kellar Center, Marla Zometsky, LPC, Manager of CSB-PRS Turning Point Program, Laura Mayer, PRS CrisisLink Program Director, and Mary Jo Davis, LCSW, Coordinator of Social Work Services for Fairfax County Public Schools.
Panelists shared the following suggestions and observations:
- Rick Leichtweis, Inova Kellar Center: “I suggest that parents look at their child’s behavior. Does the child seem worn down, emotionally or physically broken? Look for intensity of feelings. Look at grades slipping; at isolation. Look at a balance when it comes to electronics. Have a tech-free dinner. Look at how children interact; some kids seem to talk in sound bites, perhaps due to social media and texting. Try to help them with that. Look at positive or motivational discipline; help kids go towards something, rather than away from something.”
- Laura Mayer, PRS CrisisLink (a crisis phone and text line): “A common theme we see from individuals who reach out to us is that they are worried they are letting others – usually their families – down; that they, somehow, aren’t good enough. We listen and we serve as a safe place for them to share. We let them know they are not alone. Teens interact with us from dinner, school, the movies; we are a friend in their phone. We help them sort out the problem. Sometimes they don’t have the words to express themselves. We talk to them about having a safe adult in their lives to talk to. The teens who reach out to us often end up solving their problems at some point; they are resilient and strong and, sometimes, just need a supportive, confidential voice in their lives. Most kids do get better; we help provide them with problem solving solutions. “We’ve seen a surge in calls to CrisisLink/CrisisText since '13 Reasons Why' came out; while there are many issues with that show, it certainly got teens/families/all of us talking about the issue of youth suicide and how to prevent it.”
- Marla Zometsky, CSB (Turning Point Program): “We work with families who are concerned about their young adult who may be experiencing early psychosis. We often see young adults, and their families, struggle with the balance of independence and yet still the need for care. We help parents understand how to strike this balance, and we encourage parents to afford their young adults the dignity of risk. We work with families on finding middle ground.”
- Mary Jo Davis, Fairfax County Public Schools: “FCPS stresses mental health and wellness. Our teachers are trained in Kognito, an outstanding online training that helps them know how to recognize mental health conditions and when to be concerned.” [Note: Anyone in the community may take this online training. It is offered, free of charge, from the CSB’s public website.]
- Daryl Washington described CSB’s mental health services, and explained that youth and families can now walk in, without prior appointment, to the Merrifield Center for a mental health screening. He emphasized that CSB’s Emergency Services is available 24/7 for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis. “Help is just a phone call away.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, help is just a phone call away, 24 hours a day. Call CSB Emergency Services – 703-573-5679 (TTY 711) or come directly to the Merrifield Center. If the situation is immediately life-threatening, call 911. Ask for a crisis intervention team officer.
*“Bob” is a pseudonym to respect the teen's confidentiality.
Contact for news media inquiries: CSB Communications Team, 703-324-7000.