Another Perspective The World of a Child Whose Home is Touched by Mental Illness

By Shoshana Rifkind MSW, LCSW 

Sidur, Jewish book of prayer.

She stood in the hallway carefully studying the seating chart before hesitantly entering the women’s section. Yes, here was her name and she could see her empty chair waiting patiently for her. If only she could get there without anyone noticing. But that didn’t seem possible. As she walked in, she felt their eyes burning on her back, wondering about why she was alone. She clutched her machzor tightly and bravely continued on. Finally, she reached her place and sat down. She used the placemarks she had placed in school this week to find the right page. She began to daven but then looked up slowly to find the two women across from her whispering and pointing at her. Had she done something wrong? Was it what she was wearing? She knew her dress was not new but it was clean. She had washed it herself in her bathroom sink two nights ago… Was it her white shoes that were now out of season, but those were all she had…Oh, and that group of girls were staring now too. One of them was actually snickering. Why was everyone making her feel that she didn’t belong here? It was Rosh Hashana. Her Morah had told the class that everyone belonged in Shul on Rosh Hashana. And she loved davening. Anyway, there was really nowhere else for her to be. She surely couldn’t stay home…

Suddenly, she looked up and noticed her friend’s mother across the room. Mrs. Fried gave her a huge smile. A smile that emanated from deep within and touched her very soul. That was enough for now. She braced herself and continued on. She threw herself into the beautiful melodies and let herself feel the holiness of this very special day. If only those women could stop staring at her. Couldn’t they realize how uncomfortable it was making her feel? That life was hard enough without being a spectacle? After the davening was over her friend came over to her and invited her to join their family on their walk to tashlich later on. Of course, she would go. It felt so nice to be wanted. Anyway, where else would she go? She surely couldn’t stay home…

She went outside to wait for her father. It was always better to avoid walking into the house alone she was never certain what awaited her. Then out of the main door, the Rabbi appeared. He was surrounded by his sons and followers including her father. Suddenly, the Rabbi turned slightly in her direction. He looked like an angel with his long white beard and glowing face. “Gut Yom Tov mine tierre kinder (dear child)!” “Gut Yom Tov” she responded. And she knew without a doubt that one day it would be okay. And that one day she would build a home.


Often adults don’t realize the impact their actions can have on a sensitive child whose parent suffers from mental illness. It may be a natural curiosity to try to figure out what is going on in the home. They are probably unaware that their stares and gestures can make a huge negative impact, making the child feel she is somewhat at fault for the situation she finds herself in. Conversely, studies have shown that supportive members of a child’s social group can foster resiliency in a vulnerable child. As we welcome in a new year, we should try to build up our children. Our small actions can go a long way.


Shoshana Rifkind MSW, LCSW is a therapist currently in private practice with a focus on children, adolescents, and women. She has almost 20 years of experience helping individuals develop productive coping skills, improve self- confidence and experience social and emotional success. Shoshana welcomes your questions and feedback. You can reach her at [email protected] or (773)366-4439.


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