Sadly, the CDC is reporting a 40% increase in “high school students who feel persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness since 2009.” There was also a 44% increase in high school students who had developed a suicide plan during the same time period. Suicide is at a 20 year high for teens. Hospitals all over the world are seeing this. Those numbers are scary and we need to understand that our kids are struggling more than ever. The pandemic of course has added a whole new level of pressure. Between hybrid learning, school closures, lack of social interaction and precautions such as masking, life has become more stressful and sometimes more difficult to navigate. If someone is already struggling with their mental health, then every single stressor (no matter how little it may seem to you) will pile on until they are overwhelmed.
So, let’s talk about resiliency. I want to start with an analogy of a public pool. Imagine that life is the pool and the water is the daily stress placed on us. Every public pool has a lifeguard, right? In this scenario, we as parents, guardians and teachers are the lifeguards. We have navigated that pool and know the potential challenges. Our kids also look to us to throw them a life vest when they begin to slip beneath the surface. Yes, they know how to swim but the tides change in this world pretty regularly. The news is a constant source of negativity and sometimes mental health is a punchline in the media. Mental health is not a punchline or a joke. “Everyone has anxiety” is no more helpful than telling someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one to “get over it.” And we, as lifeguards have a duty to keep our kids focused on the important stuff.
What important stuff? Goals, college applications, driver’s licenses, prom, career aspirations and most importantly (I cannot stress this enough) how to be healthy. Mental health struggles can be made worse due to lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition, stress and conflict in the home such as fighting, financial concerns and alcohol and substance misuse. These conditions can lead to behavioral issues and outbursts and deteriorating mental health. At the end of this blog, I will include resources to explain the lifeguard analogy a bit more. The videos were produced by the Mental Health Association and do a great job of expressing why we must put in the extra effort.
How Can I Help?
The answer to this question depends on your role in a child’s life. If you are their parent, you can:
- Make sure that your child is getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night to ensure that they are focused and prepared for the day.
- Make sure that your child is getting adequate nutrition. Our brains and bodies need vitamins and nutrients to function. If you are struggling, search for food banks and food pantries in your area. Reach out to a local Salvation Army and churches about possible food distributions.
- Ask your child if they need help with homework. Even if you don’t know the answers, help them find YouTube videos on the subject. (Khan Academy was started by a father who was trying to help his child with their schoolwork. Trust me, it’s amazing! Khan Academy is the only reason that I passed Statistics.)
- Try to set aside time in the evenings or on weekends to go for a walk with your child. Exercise is a great natural booster for dopamine and a way to have a relaxed conversation.
- Be mindful of any conflict in the home. No matter how many times you tell a child that these are “adult” problems, it does not make them worry any less. If you are struggling financially, they know it. Be honest and do not blow off a chance to talk to your child when needed. Be mindful of conflict between parents/guardians and children in the home or conflicts between siblings. Have clear boundaries around quiet time for your child’s homework and try to set aside a space where they can focus and not be interrupted.
If you are a teacher there are still ways that you can contribute to resiliency. They include:
- Being mindful of the ways that the pandemic has impacted your students. If they are struggling to keep up, guide them to any extra help that you can think of. Offer tutoring sessions or study groups.
- Read the room. Right now, kids have a lot on their minds and one of the biggest risk factors for teens is a low commitment to school. This is where you can shine. Try to build interactive and engaging lesson plans to break up the monotony of lectures. If time allows, take the kids on a short walk or do stretching exercises and breathing techniques in class.
- Talk to your students. They may be going through something at home that is getting in the way of their education. Try talking to them first instead of reaching out to their parents. Be mindful that parents and guardians can sometimes be the source of their distractions.
- Praise their strengths. Whether the student is getting As or Fs, there is something that they are good at. Find it and hone it so that they can be successful.
By: Michelle Williams, Student