Before proceeding, I would like for you to please watch this video about the “real truth” of mental health in children from the UK.
It is no secret that children are being diagnosed with mental illnesses at younger and younger ages these days. It has been a growing problem that forces families to turn to their schools and institutions for help. Many wonder why this is a growing issue… Are schools just teaching with more rigor and therefore our children are under more stress? Or are we now just paying more attention to labels and diagnoses in children in general? Either way, 15 million American children and young adults suffer from a mental illness, but a striking 2/3 of that population never receive or have access to a proper diagnosis and treatment (pictured in the infographic below). Because our children spend a majority of their time at school these days, many are wondering what these institutions are doing to help their students so that they can grow to be leaders not only with a good education in general but a good education in mental health. As a student that has had her fair share of struggling within the school system, I know that it is next to impossible to thrive and learn in an environment when you are in a dark place mentally. My school, Providence Day, is a private school in Charlotte, North Carolina that I have attended since I was in Kindergarten. I decided to make my school and our Lower School population (Kindergarten-5th grade) my main focus in my catalyst project and what they are doing to help their students.
To begin my research, I spoke with the Lower School Counselor at Providence Day who I have grown to know very well. She started off by saying that one of the biggest challenges within her job is that she works with over 600 kids! I asked her about some of the most common diagnoses she sees at Providence Day, and she said mostly anxiety, emotional intelligence issues, or adjustment disorders in females while males struggle with ADHD and anger management issues. While we were discussing this topic, she also brought up the fact that nowadays children who attend more high-achieving schools are becoming more and more at risk for developing a mental illness because of the continued stress they face. She said that occasionally she will see some early onsets of depression but this is less common until the child reaches puberty. Providence Day’s mission regarding mental health is to find solutions based on short term problem solving, such as helping students identify their patterns in behavior and what coping skills they have available to combat those negative patterns. The counselor says that while she does not have the power to formally diagnose children, she wants a diagnosis to be an exploration process; something that you can use to understand yourself better. Mental health and wellness, just like learning math or working out, is a skill that needs to be exercised and practiced before you can become really good at it. She tries to help the children focus on normalizing their negative feelings; realize that they aren’t the only ones struggling. She says that this helps promote a growth mindset in the child that can empower them to improve. It turns out that Providence Day is doing a lot more than I initially thought to help their students, which was great news:
- Next year, Providence Day will be hiring an additional Lower School Counselor to help combat the overwhelming numbers that the current counselor is facing. About 3 years ago this same shift was made in our Upper School community and we saw amazing results.
- Providence Day is very focused on not only the mental health and wellness in their students but also in their families and faculty. Kid’s minds are very malleable and they focus on learning from the actions of others. If parents and the faculty can model good coping skills and a healthy mindset, the kids will learn from them as well.
- There is a character education system that is taught in Lower School as well by the Lower School Counselor. Below is a video from the Lower School Counselor that was used to send to students so that they feel supported while remote learning. This models what she would normally teach in the classroom (such as the Zones of Regulation, etc). She also reads many children’s books about mental health such as Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, A Walk in The Rain with A Brain, and My Brain Needs Glasses. Update: I tried to upload the video and the file was too big :(. If you still want it please contact me directly!
- The Lower School Counselor hosts a Life Skills Yoga Program after school for students to join to do yoga while talking about mental health and a healthy lifestyle!
Below is a link to Providence Day’s mental health and wellness portion of the remote learning website set up to help students of all ages with the transition of learning in a classroom to at home.
This topic was especially interesting to me because I want to become a child development specialist and learn more about psychology in college. My initial plan for this project was to formulate a presentation for parts of my Lower School Community that I could do in person. I hoped to talk about the statistics, how the students could help their peers struggling, warning signs, and the resources available to them at Providence Day. I am very sad that I was no longer able to carry out this plan because of remote learning. I regrouped and decided to create an infographic to hopefully be used in the continuing mental health curriculum the Lower School Counselor is teaching!
So, what can you do to help those struggling right now? First of all, don’t be scared to reach out to your school’s administration and talk about what they are doing to combat the rising levels of mental health in children! I promise they want to hear your voice and your point of view because you are a student; they want to help! If you have a peer who you notice is struggling either externally or internally, it is always a good idea to talk to an adult about it. If you have access to a counselor at your school, make an appointment with them or walk right in to their office if the issue is urgent. In other cases, talking to a teacher or other faculty member works just as well. If you are a parent that notices any warning signs in your child pointing to a potential mental illness, your first step should be getting an appropriate diagnosis and start a treatment plan for your child. Having a diagnosis can help the school and counselors work better with your family and formulate a plan specific to your child’s needs. It is suggested that upon receiving this diagnosis in lower school children it is best to start talking to their classroom teacher rather than the school’s counselor. A parent’s partnership with the school or institution is essential to helping the child get the help that they need! Be direct and specific when talking to the designated faculty member at your school, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about a potential plan or even to understand your child’s behavior better.
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