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ANY CHILD CAN EXPERIENCE AN EMOTIONAL DISORDER

I would like to comment on Donn Esmonde's column about the suicide of Christian Johns in the Erie County Holding Center.

While reading the article, I experienced a wide range of emotions. First, sadness for this young man who could not find enough hope to continue living. Second, rage against what seems to be Esmonde's central point -- blaming the family for this tragedy. Finally, a deep feeling of weariness at the news of another precious kid lost to his own anguish.

The pain he experienced is of a much more complex making than the simple explanationEsmonde offered: "Chances are Christian wouldn't have been so lost if, over the years, night after night and day after day, he'd gotten the love and care he needed at home."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serious emotional disabilities affect one in every 20 young people. While we don't know all the causes of mental-health problems, research indicates that both biology and environment can be involved.

Contrary to Esmonde's statement that "kids coming from strong homes grow up straight while those from broken homes are damaged," youngsters from stable and loving environments can and do develop emotional and behavioral difficulties.

I will not deny that there are parents who are unable to offer their children physical and emotional sustenance. Poverty, substance abuse, physical abuse and familial predisposition to mental illness all play a role. But it is important to remember that emotional and behavioral disorders cut across all income, education, racial, ethnic and religious groups. Troubled children are found among single- and two-parent families and in birth, adoptive and foster families.

As coordinator of the Child and Family Support Program at the Mental Health Association of Erie County, I have talked with many people trying to parent children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. These parents struggle to raise their difficult children in stigma-induced isolation in tumultuous times. Most are heartbroken and bewildered but refuse to give up.

Heaping criticism upon a plate already overflowing with guilt and grief will not help these families -- it will only incapacitate them further. If we want to help the child, we must focus on a family's strengths.

mary Skorupa Buffalo

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