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How Moms For Mental Health Is Working To Spread Its Message To Parents Of Children And Teens In Need Of Help

Moms for Mental Health doesn’t slow down its message with meetings, dues or committees. Membership is simple: just spread the word.

Seven words. Seven words—and the decisive actions of an alert counselor—made all the difference for one Treasure Coast family.

Tammy Calabria called the police when her former husband physically abused their oldest son. Next, she filed for divorce and fought for custody. Along the way, she brought her sons to a Tykes & Teens counselor. During a session, her oldest son—especially struggling through the separation—took part in a writing exercise. He penned the seven words: “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

He was 10 years old at the time. 

The counselor recognized the weight of his sentence and alerted Calabria.  

“She shared it with me right away,” Calabria recalls. “He was feeling very guilty about what had taken place.”

Guilt, shame, embarrassment, confusion, fear. These emotions all too often collide to stifle desperately necessary cries for help. The silence leaves families unable to identify a child who is suffering, unaware of the need to intervene, and—if tragedy strikes—incapable of stopping an indelible act that could’ve been prevented had help arrived in time. 

This is why Calabria is a proud member of Moms for Mental Health. Founded by Linda Weiksnar, family partner with Crary Buchanan, in partnership with Tykes & Teens, Moms for Mental Health is a grassroots movement committed to sharing information about the signs and signals of potential mental-health concerns in teens and young people. 

Linda Weiksnar, founder of Moms for Mental Health

Weiksnar was motivated to create Moms for Mental Health after hearing about the troubles some of her clients’ children struggled with. Then, she heard an unrelated story about a family that learned too late about the depth of their child’s despondency. 

“I heard of a story where the child died by suicide,” she says. “And the mom said she had not seen anything. And a friend said, ‘I saw things, but I didn’t know if it was my place to say anything.’ There shouldn’t be a shame or stigma associated with it.”

Weiksnar teamed with Tykes & Teens, which developed the 10 Red Light Warning Behaviors for potential mental-health issues in children and teens:

• Prolonged withdrawal and isolation

• Marked decline in school performance

• Constant anxiety/worry

• Persistent nightmares

• Persistent disobedience or aggression

• Inability to regulate emotions

• Prolonged sadness

• Prolonged irritability 

• Inability to tolerate failure

• Extreme impulsivity 

Keywords include “extreme” and “prolonged.” When in doubt, Agnieszka Marshall, doctor of psychology and director of preventative services with Tykes & Teens, says get a professional’s perspective. 

“Before thinking, ‘That’s too small and doesn’t need to be addressed,’ perhaps allow a professional to make a determination,” she says. “People might misconstrue something that occurs and might not see it as enough of an issue. My hope is that people err on the side of caution. On the other side of the spectrum, parents might notice a mood that may persist, but they hope that the children will just grow out of it.”

Armed with fold-up cards to inform others, members of Moms for Mental Health don’t bother with meetings, dues or committees.

“The only thing I ask of people is their voice,” Weiksnar says, “that they reach out to 10 people. What I find is when they reach out they become more committed to spreading the word.”

The organization has more than 400 members in more than 12 states, Weiksnar says. 

“The people who are involved don’t have to be moms,” Weiksnar says. “They don’t even have to have children. If you were ever anyone affected by teen angst, you can help.”

Today, Calabria’s son is a straight-A student in ROTC. The proud mom doesn’t take for granted how early intervention contributed to protecting the life he now enjoys. 

“That’s the message I want to get through to moms,” she says. “All kids struggle—grades, sports. There’s so much pressure on them. If we could just talk about it. I want parents to know it’s not a weakness or a flaw in them—and it should not be an embarrassment to admit when your child needs help.”

Linda Weiksnar talks with BookMania! young adult authors Jay Asher and Paul Griffin about normalizing conversations on adolescent mental health.