In order for all youth to thrive, they must first be healthy. To be healthy, one must have fulfilled social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs. Unfortunately, over the past two years, it has become common for one or more of these needs to be lacking. When we think about how COVID-19 has affected our youth, we can see trends in their behavior that tells us just that. It is easy to overlook disruptive behavior but these can be indicators of poor mental health. From a rapid shift to virtual learning without adequate preparation to historical inequities, over time these stressors add up and wear away at one’s mental strength. As parents, educators, after school professionals, school administrators, etc. we see how stressors have affected our students, but we don’t always understand the most effective ways to treat and/ or prevent mental health problems.
The United States Department of Education (DOE) recently released ‘Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs’ sharing research, sources, and recommendations to address children’s health needs. DOE states that children being away from their peers can be harmful to their psychological development and cause problems with mental health. They continued by stating that
increased loneliness is related to the loss of in-person school for over 223 million children worldwide.The United States Department of Education
For thousands of students, school is a safe space and during the school building closures they had no choice but to stay in unhealthy home environments.
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. Children who are exposed to violence, drug use, malnourishment, etc. at a young age can have poor mental health throughout their life. Ensuring students impacted by trauma get the proper care can help to prevent them from long term mental health impacts. Educators, administrators and after school professionals who have a strong understanding of trauma and how it affects the brain can better support youth in the classroom and in the community. When students are dealing with mental health problems they can manifest into behaviors that may not be normal for that student, and may be disruptive. When a student shows these behaviors, too often they are punished instead of having interventions with professionals and finding the root cause. EnvisionEdPlus workshops like DoAble Discipline and Strength Based Conflict Resolution provide practical, easily implemented strategies for managing behavior and avoiding ‘amygdala hi-jacks’.
For many adults and children, a main reason they do not seek mental health support is due to public stigma. Schools can play a huge role in minimizing stigma since students are six times more likely to get mental health support in school rather than in their community. Breaking this stigma can be started by having open conversations about the importance of mental health and normalizing seeking help when needed. Sharing information about mental health, where to get services, and offering practice tips for promoting positive mental health will increase awareness.
EnvisionEdPlus offers a variety of courses covering mental health topics that can support anyone who works with youth. Check out our 2021-22 course catalog here. From building and maintaining boundaries to understanding trauma, our courses help YOU learn practical strategies to offer a helping hand to any struggling student.
With all of this at play, we can’t forget about our educators and after school professionals! It is critical that leaders emphasize staff wellness at the same level as student wellness. The DOE report recommendations suggested leaders assess the critical needs of duties and meetings – and then eliminate those which are ineffective or non-essential. The more responsibilities we add to their plates, the faster our staff feel overwhelmed and burnt out. Engage staff in thinking about how student needs (and their own needs) are different now compared to pre-pandemic. Give them opportunities to co-create new environments and support systems to address the new needs. Ensuring all staff a place to voice their opinions and concerns will help leaders understand what staff need so they can help their kids thrive. This fall, Michele Timmons, our president, is earning a certification to offer staff wellness support to schools. Watch our newsletters for more information.
We are all facing new challenges, but as we grow and learn together we will continue to create a brighter future for our youth!