Championing & centering essential mental health supports
As a mental health clinical counselor it's no surprise that I believe in the importance of supporting all things mental health. I also believe in attending to our mental health as early as possible. Research has shown that early intervention and prevention can have positive long-term effects if there is cultivation and development of useful skills and awareness. This also creates the ability to find necessary resources and supports when unforeseen impactful events occur.
I have identified several different issues that impact our learners, teachers, staff, and families and we need to increase resources and supports to reduce any negative outcomes.
In 2019 Fox News did a story about the rampant bullying taking place at one of the middle schools, however, incidents of peer to peer harm is happening district wide. We must ensure physical, emotional, and psychological safety of our learners. To reach this objective we need to equip learners, teachers, staff, and admin with the necessary tools. This could include highlighting the effects of bullying, teaching emotional intelligence, understanding where the behavior is coming from, responding responsibly and appropriately, and teach skills that encourage connection, compassion, and empathy. These are skills that learners can use for a lifetime.
Safety must also be created within relationships between peers. No one teaches us how to be in a relationship, with either a partner or a friend. So often someone is hurt by another person's words or behaviors but the full impact of that hurt is often not shared. We need to teach learners what a healthy relationship is and is not. Part of this awareness includes learning how to confidently set boundaries, understand what harmful behavior is, when to seek support, how to maintain personal safety, and how to get needs met in a healthy way. These elements can be taught in an age appropriate manner starting at a young age. These skills will be beneficial in all relationships.
TEACHERS, STAFF, & ADMIN
The mental health of teachers, staff, and admin also matters. We have been navigating a worldwide pandemic and experiencing its destruction, baring witness to the effects of gun violence, and feeling uncertain about the state of our society. Teachers have faced an unprecedented amount of stress over the past few years including transitioning and adapting to remote teaching with no time to prepare (they don't teach that in college), receiving angry and unsupportive messages (sometimes even violent threats) from parents, and having felt unappreciated and unrecognized for their unrelenting dedication and determination. It's this stress that has caused so many to quit teaching.
This loss is detrimental to not only our learners, but community as well. We need to make sure our teachers, staff, and admin feel supported, validated, and heard. We need to do what this community does best, support those in need. Our teachers, staff, and admin need our support so they can do what they're passionate about without worrying about how it's going to be received or responded to. We need to provide them a supportive environment and outside resources when needed.
The effects of the pandemic on mental health has been felt by all but especially by learners. Some might have felt fear, uncertainty, loneliness due to isolation, financial instability, loss of a loved one, persistent COVID symptoms, or witnessed increased fighting at home. A full understanding of the effects are still being researched but with the knowledge we do have, prioritizing learner's mental health is essential. Helping our learners process their emotions, validate and normalize their feelings, connect with their peers so they don't feel so alone, create a support network they can turn to, and teach coping skills to reduce anxious and depressive symptoms. If want our learners to thrive in the school setting then we need to attend to the wellbeing of their mental health.
At the minimum we need to teach them what EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE is. If we can help our learners build their emotional intelligence, then we're setting them up for success. They will be able to identify when their emotions shift, when they're feeling stressed, how to effectively manage escalating emotions, be attuned to others emotions, and understand how emotions impact our thoughts, behaviors, and actions to make constructive choices.