About a dozen years ago, Andrew Garlick and his wife started noticing changes in their teenage daughter, Emily.
As her sophomore year at Ramapo High School rolled around, it became more and more difficult to get Emily, an A-student and member of the school’s marching band and fencing team, out of bed in the morning.
The Garlicks initially attributed the change to typical teenage moodiness, but before long realized they were dealing with something far more insidious.
“One fall morning we went into her room to rouse her and found her in a fetal position in a catatonic state,” Andrew Garlick said. “She had experienced a complete psychological breakdown.”
At a loss for answers, the Garlicks reached out to various mental health professionals with little success. The schools, pediatricians and churches also proved unhelpful, Garlick said.
Eventually, through some networking, the family found a psychologist in Teaneck, who put them in touch with a psychiatrist in Manhattan who finally gave them some answers.
Emily was diagnosed with Schizo-Affective disorder.
“When you first experience mental illness in your family, you are lost.” Garlick said. “The family is in crisis and under a great deal of stress – they are in no position to take on the various bureaucracies – medical, educational, insurance, etc.”
Without a central clearing house to help navigate this new world of professional caregivers, interacting medications and psychotherapies, the Garlicks started their own. In 2002, The Family Support Organization of Bergen County was born.
“All of our Board Members, all of our Family Support Partners, and all of our volunteers are or have been caregivers of someone with mental illness,” said Garlick, who sees the organization as the family voice in children’s mental health. “We know what the family is going through, and we have experience with the various services in the county and the state.”
Professional caregivers, who deal only with the child, lack a sense of family, Garlick said. The Family Support Organization, on the other hand, exists solely to support the family, through a combination of advocacy, education, support and counseling.
Since 2002, the Fair Lawn-based organization has gained a reputation throughout the county with various mental health agencies, counselors and pediatricians. The Family Support Organization, which operates on state contract, sees about 100 families each month, and provides telephone support to many others.
On Sunday, the Family Support Organization is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a free open house and street party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at its Fair Lawn office, located at 0-108 29th St.
The day’s festivities will include food, entertainment, prizes, and a special visit from Elvis at 4 p.m. The whole community is invited.