Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services prioritizes town-wide mental health

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By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer

Jennifer Rifkin (l), director of clinical services for Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services (SYFS), and Christine Mowry, SYFS executive director
Photo/submitted

Shrewsbury – Since its founding in 1983, Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services, Inc. (SYFS) has worked in partnership with the town of Shrewsbury to address the growing needs of its residents. While many of their joint endeavors aim to support kids, teens and parents, one of their newest collaborations is availing a town-wide survey and focus group on the behavioral health needs of people 60 and over.

According to Christine Mowry, executive director of SYFS, the town administration commissioned SYFS to complete a focus group assessment to identify available behavioral health services, service gaps, unmet needs and barriers to care for residents 60 and over.

The project began in November, with survey data being collected through January. Focus Groups are also running through January, with data analysis taking place in February, and report completion expected by early March.

“We are hoping to collect information not only from older adults themselves, but also from caregivers and providers,” Mowry said.

Mowry has examined data related to mental health in older adults.

“Unfortunately, many people mistake symptoms of mental disorders as normal experiences of aging,” Mowry said. “Symptoms of pain, fatigue, sleep and appetite changes, for example, get attributed to other health conditions. Personality changes and mood swings may be brushed off…”

According to Mowry, isolation and loneliness are also contributing factors to mental health challenges. She identified stigma, lack of information, and transportation troubles as some of the barriers to older adults getting help.

“Our hope is that we can clearly identify the unmet needs and challenges that our older adult population is facing and work with the town to create a strategic plan to address and better support this growing population,” Mowry said. “People can and do recover at any age.”

The surveys, which are anonymous with confidential drop boxes, are available at the Senior Center, Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services, and the library. Alternatively, the survey can be completed electronically at syfs-ma.org.

Besides the project for the 60 and over population, SYFS remains busy addressing the needs of other age groups.

In response to seeing a dramatic increase in mental health concerns in the community, the town worked to create a safety net for residents by offering Mental Health First Aid Training.

“SYFS has been providing this training across the commonwealth … to recognize and identify youth, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends who may be showing signs or symptoms of a budding mental illness,” Mowry said.

The training is designed to provide participants with the skills and confidence to intervene and assist someone who may be struggling.

Shrewsbury Town Manager Kevin Mizika enlisted SYFS’ help to train all town hall employees in mental health first aid and outreach to youth remains another SYFS priority.

“With one in five youth being impacted by a mental illness, and suicide remaining the second leading cause of death for adolescents, the agency continues to expand school-based programming and services to support young people,” Mowry said.

SYFS has seen an increase not only in the number of young people treated in their clinic, but also in the complexity of the problems presented. Mowry said the town recently approved increased agency funding to hire an additional clinician to reduce their extensive waitlist for outpatient services.

“Though a great number of those who seek our services are young people, the agency provides these services across the lifespan,” Mowry said.

For more information, call SYFS at 508-845-6932 or visit www.SYFS-MA.org.