Merlene Davis: Staff of century-old mental health agency needs your help to meet its need

Mendy Daniels is executive director of Family Counseling Service, a nonprofit organization that offers low-cost therapy for adults, adolescents, children and couples on a sliding fee scale.
Mendy Daniels is executive director of Family Counseling Service, a nonprofit organization that offers low-cost therapy for adults, adolescents, children and couples on a sliding fee scale.

After the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., I heard folks say this explosion of violence has become our new normal.

I didn't believe that.

But Thursday, after I noticed that the news of a 16-year-old boy wounding a classmate with a shotgun in Taft, Calif., didn't get much play nationally, I'm considering a change of mind.

Maybe this is the direction our country is headed. Maybe I should believe we've gone past the point of no return.

In the Taft school incident, the young shooter is said to have been bullied for a couple of years. I couldn't help but wonder if something could have been done about that before Thursday's event?

Yes, according to Mendy Daniels, executive director of Family Counseling Service, a nonprofit organization. But that "something" is more complicated than we think.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, there was a lot of talk about gun control, but not much about what we are doing to create a more mentally stable community, she said.

"We've got to make sure we are taking care of ourselves emotionally and mentally or we are going to continue to suffer for it. And it seems to be escalating."

One issue could be that our children, the bullies and the victims, may never have learned how to effectively deal with their emotions or how to communicate them to anyone. That is a big problem in America, she said.

But the problem isn't just with our children. There are many factors that contribute to adult dysfunction: drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, stress and financial struggles are a few of our issues. All of that, Daniels said, takes its toll on relationships.

"We are seeing children with more severe emotional problems, more mental illness," which may stem from the growing number of families dealing with addiction and domestic violence, she said.

"I think kids have to grow up quicker now," Daniels said.

She explained that adults and parents seem to be expecting children to do things they are incapable of doing, like sitting still for an hour as 4-year-olds in day care.

And part of those expectations come from parents who are working longer hours or more than one job just to keep the household running.

Then, at home, the children may not be supervised properly because of the dysfunction there. Parents "probably are not thinking they need to sit down with Johnny and read a book," Daniels said.

And sometimes, that means the children are left on their own to deal with adult issues that parents are ill-equipped to handle.

"That's why so many children don't get the help they need," she said. "Instead, they go to school and get in trouble and, if they are lucky, get referred to places like here, where they do get help."

Family Counseling Service was established in 1900 to "investigate and aid distressed children and families in Lexington." Through the years, the agency has welcomed anyone needing individual, couples, adolescent, children or family therapy.

At one time there were eight or nine therapists, Daniels said. That number has been reduced to one full-time clinician besides herself and two other clinicians who are on per-client contracts. And yet, they help 60 to 70 clients a week and have conflict resolution and support groups in the schools.

"There is so much more we want to do, but we've got to have some help," she said.

Just like most nonprofits, FCS is struggling financially. It receives funding from the United Way of the Bluegrass, from private foundations and from grants.

Recently Daniels has had to turn away about five people seeking help because they could not afford the low fees that are based on a sliding fee scale. There are no grants to help supplement fees clients can't afford to pay.

"That really frustrates me," she said.

FCS doesn't accept insurance or medical cards right now, but Daniels hopes to have the infrastructure set up this year to change that. It would also allow her to apply for more federal grants.

For now, Daniels is hoping an upcoming fundraiser will help. Death by Valentine, a murder mystery dinner, will take place at the Hyatt Regency on Feb. 16.

"The proceeds will help us keep our doors open and help us to help people even if they don't have money," Daniels said.

"People don't really like to talk about mental illness even though most of us have known someone or are related to someone who has struggled. But we still don't hear those conversations."

We must talk about mental illness in order to alleviate the problem and its effect in our country. If attending a fun evening will help bring all that about, I'm all for it.