Interview with Natasha Collins, Marriage and Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA

3.)  KP: At Seneca center, you’re working with youth who have gone through some really tough times. Can you talk more about the specific types of struggles these young people are facing?

Natasha: At Seneca Center, we provide services to not only the youth, but their families as well and often times their family members are experiencing similar issues and challenges that their children are.

One of the most prevalent struggles facing the youth in our programs is the experience of loss and trauma that stems from community violence. For those who are familiar with the Bay Area, especially parts of Oakland, there are many communities plagued with community violence.  It’s not uncommon to hear from our teens and families that they have had multiple family members and friends who’ve been killed through community violence. So trauma from violence greatly impacts the lives of the kids with whom we work.

Many families are in challenging financial situations and experience a lack of access to necessary resources. We work with youth and families who have struggled to meet basic needs like getting adequate food and shelter, or keeping the electricity on.

A lot of the youth have family members who are struggling with cycles of addiction to drugs and alcohol.  This can impact their ability to provide adequate supervision to their children, so sometimes we see teenagers who have been raising themselves for years because there isn’t adequate family support.  They have to get themselves up and to school every morning and do their homework on their own in the evening. Needless to say, it can be really hard without a lot of guidance and structure in the home to make those things happen.

Consequently, a lot of teens that we see have a difficult time in the academic environment.  Sometimes, it’s because they have learning disabilities and have needs that aren’t being addressed adequately in the school setting.  It could also be because there hasn’t been a lot of support developing good study habits, or having somebody read to them every night.  They end up getting further and further behind in school, making it a very challenging place for them to be. The feelings of frustration can contribute to a youth giving up on themselves and turning to involvement in more delinquent types of behaviors.

KP: I know you’ve already touched upon some of the mental health diagnoses you see, such as substance abuse among the parents. What are some of the other diagnoses you have seen with this population?

Natasha:  Some common diagnoses I have worked with include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) disorder.  Issues related to grief and loss are also quite common.

Next Section: 4.) What are the strategies you have used to help these young people and their families?

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