In a day and age when mental health issues are at the forefront for many people due to the pandemic and other challenges, some schools are taking action.
The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District has been doing its part to make sure mental health challenges do not go unnoticed.
Bethany Young (pictured above right with Lauren Oppenheimer) is a school social worker for La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. She said such issues have especially been addressed the last few years with the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, our school social worker team created parent education trainings that were presented over Zoom, ”Young commented. “These training sessions were aimed at helping parents navigate issues students and families were facing during that difficult time. Those trainings have both continued and expanded post-distance learning. School social workers hold monthly trainings on various topics that include mental health, media usage, grief and loss, self-esteem, social pressures and more. ”
According to Young, creating and hosting parent training is just a part of her role and the roles of other district social workers.
“School social workers also help connect families to resources, offer short-term counseling support, respond to crisis situations, help students build social and emotional skills, and work to create an overall positive school climate, ”Young remarked.
Lauren Oppenheimer is another social worker in the district.
Oppenheimer noted, “I’ve seen students have trouble regulating emotions, managing social situations and even young students questioning their worth and ability to continue living. I believe much of this is due to the lack of social connection during the pandemic as well as the trauma and stress that occurred as a result of the pandemic. Students missed more than a year of the safety and security that school offers so many. They may have had access to academics virtually, but for so many, the stress of the pandemic and lack of structure caused many to lose motivation, fall behind socially and learn unhealthy coping strategies. ”
As Young sees it, students face myriad of challenges, many of which are unique to school life.
“For many students, regulating emotions and interacting positively with peers following the pandemic has been an ongoing challenge, ”Young remarked. “Physically being away from school and friends for almost a year and a half was difficult for most students.”
Look for behavioral changes
One big challenge facing parents is to recognize their child may be struggling.
“Behavior of a struggling child may be seen in externalizing behaviors or internalizing behaviors and each child presents differently, ”Young stated. “Internalizing behaviors may look withdrawn, losing interest in things the child was once interested in, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, lack of motivation and difficulty communicating their feelings. Externalizing behaviors may look like defiance, self-harm, aggression, and rule-breaking. It’s important for parents to understand that behavior has meaning and often that behavior is the child trying to communicate a need in the only way they know how. ”
Oppenheimer pointed out that parents and guardians should pay attention to any changes in a child’s day-to-day behavior.
“Often, when it comes to mental health, parents think that changes in mood and self-esteem are the main predictors of mental health disorders, however, we can also see physical and social changes that can alert us to the need for support, ”Oppenheimer remarked. “Things like headaches, stomach aches, diarrhea, and even defiance can be signs of emotional challenges. Parents may also notice changes or resistance to things the child previously did or enjoyed. If a child is sleeping or eating more or less, having difficulty paying attention, showing signs of hyper-vigilance or even seeming withdrawn from previously preferred activities, this can be a sign of depression or other mood disorders. ”
Oppenheimer made it clear that should a child ever mention being homeless, not wanting to live, questioning whether they should be a part of their class and / or family, or even starts to take action by causing physical pain to themselves, take these statements seriously and get immediate support. Any adult sensing their child is in danger can call the San Diego Access and Crisis line 24/7 at (888) 724-7240 to consult with specialists. If one’s child is in immediate danger they can call 9-1-1 and ask for the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT).
Young noted recent times have been filled with a lot of uncertainty and change for students.
“Students are having to rediscover how to interact, self-regulate and problem solve, ”Young stated. “Due to this, social-emotional learning has been especially important this school year. Additionally, some students and families have experienced tremendous loss, loss of a family member, loss of a job or loss of housing. This loss can have a huge impact on a child’s mental health, education and social interactions. There have been tremendous social, familial and academic impacts coming out of the pandemic. ”
Oppenheimer pointed out that La Mesa / Spring Valley School District brought in a number of new social workers during the COVID-19 pandemic that caused schools to go to remote learning in 2020.
“Since then, we have worked as a team throughout the district to provide support to students, parents, and teachers, ”Oppenheimer stated. “As mental health providers and school employees, we have a unique opportunity to include many adults in each student’s lives. One way we are doing this is we are providing parent education to support mental wellness in students. These interactive trainings cover almost all things mental health including: common mental health challenges in children (signs, symptoms, and support), coping skills, grief and loss, self-care for parents and caregivers, community resources and more. ”
Even before COVID, some students no matter where they go to school had other issues to tackle.
Both in-person and online bullying for example are things some must deal with.
“Each student has the power to help create a positive and inclusive school environment, ”Young remarked. “The need for social-emotional learning has been strongly emphasized this year. School social workers across the district have created social-emotional lessons that teach students about self-awareness, problem solving, empathy, taking perspective and other topics that are important in building positive relationships. ”
According to Oppenheimer, students can definitely help each other.
“Showing love, kindness, and support to one another will increase the positive and soothing hormones that are released throughout individual bodies, ”Oppenheimer stated. “Each person has the power to impact one another’s mood and thankfully, many use this power for good by giving compliments, praise and time to one another.”
As Young sees it, every student has a story that others may not be aware of and / or understand.
“It’s important to teach students to have compassion and empathy when interacting with one another, ”Young added. “Positive peer relationships are a vital part of a positive learning environment.”
– Reach editor Dave Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.