Teachers train in mental health; warn students in distress | Health
SAN FRANCISCO — As Benito Luna-Herrera teaches his social studies class in seventh grade, he’s on the lookout for signs of inner turmoil. And there are so many these days.
One of her 12-year-old students felt her world was falling apart. Distance learning had changed his friendships. Things with her boyfriend were borderline violent. Her home life was stressful. “I’m just done,” the youngster told Luna-Herrera during the pandemic, and shared a detailed plan to take her own life.
Another student was generally a big joker and full of confidence. But one day, she told him that she didn’t want to live anymore. She too had a plan in place to end her life.
Luna-Herrera is just a middle school teacher in Southern California, but stories of students in distress are becoming more common across the country. The silver lining is that special training helped him know what to look for and how to react when he saw the signs of a mental emergency.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have warned of a mental health crisis facing American children. This is now happening in schools in the form of an increase in childhood depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, fighting and suicidal thoughts to alarming levels, according to interviews with teachers, administrators, education officials and mental health experts.
In low-income areas, where negative childhood experiences were high before the pandemic, the crisis is even more acute and compounded by a shortage of school staff and mental health professionals.
Luna-Herrera, who teaches in a very poor area of the Mojave Desert, is one of a small but growing number of California teachers to take a course called Youth Mental Health First Aid. It teaches adults how to spot the warning signs of mental health and addiction risks in children, and how to prevent tragedy.
The California Department of Education is funding the program for any school district that requests it, and the pandemic has accelerated moves to make those classes mandatory. The training program is run by the National Council for Mental Wellness and available in every state.
“I don’t want to read about another teenager where there were warning signs and we looked the other way,” said Sen. Anthony Portantino, author of a bill that would require all middle and high schools in California to train at least 75% of employees in behavioral health. “Teachers and school staff are on the front lines of a crisis and need to be trained to spot students who are hurting.”
Experts say that while depression and anxiety in children have been on the rise for years, the relentless stress and grief of the pandemic has magnified the problems, especially for those who were already experiencing mental health issues that have been cut off from counselors and other school resources during remote learning.
For children, the issues with distance learning weren’t just academic, said Sharon Hoover, professor of child psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health.
Child abuse and neglect has increased during the pandemic, according to Hoover. For children living in troubled homes, with alcoholic or violent parents, distance learning meant they had no escape. Those who lacked technology or had spotty internet connections were even more isolated than their peers and fell further behind academically and socially.
Many children have bounced back from the prolonged isolation, but for others it will take longer and mental health issues often lag behind a stressor.
“We can’t assume that ‘OK, we’re back to school, it’s been a few months and now everyone should be back to normal. It’s not,” Hoover said.
Returning to school after months of isolation has heightened anxiety for some children. Teachers say students are having more difficulty concentrating, staying seated and many have to relearn how to socialize and resolve face-to-face conflict after prolonged immersion in screens.
Children expected to pick up where they left off, but some found friendships and their ability to cope with social stress changed. Educators say they’re also seeing a worrying increase in apathy — about grades, about how students treat each other and themselves — and much less empathy.
“I’ve never seen kids be so mean to each other in my life,” said Terrin Musbach, who trains teachers in mental health awareness and other social-emotional programs at Del Norte. Unified School District, a very poor rural northern district. California. “There’s more school violence, there’s more vaping, there’s more substance abuse, there’s more sexual activity, there’s more suicidal ideation, there’s more of every behavior that would worry us in children.”
Many states have mandated teacher training on suicide prevention over the past decade, and the pandemic has prompted some to expand the scope to include mental health awareness and support for health needs. behavioral.
But school districts across the country are also saying they need more psychologists and counselors. The Hopeful Futures Campaign, a coalition of national mental health organizations, released a report last month that found most states are struggling to provide mental health support in schools. Only Idaho and the District of Columbia exceed the nationally recommended ratio of one psychologist per 500 students.
In some states, including West Virginia, Missouri, Texas and Georgia, there is only one school psychologist for more than 4,000 students, the report said. Similarly, few states meet the goal of one counselor for every 250 students.
President Joe Biden has proposed $1 billion in new federal funding to help schools hire more counselors and psychologists and strengthen suicide prevention programs. This followed a rare public advisory in December from US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on “the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis”.
In early 2021, emergency room visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for teenage girls and 4% higher for teenage boys compared to the same time in 2019, according to research cited in the ‘notice.
Since California began offering the Youth Mental Health First Aid course in 2014, more than 8,000 teachers, administrators and school staff have been trained, said Monica Nepomuceno, who oversees mental health programs. at the California Department of Education.
She said much more needs to be done in the nation’s largest state, which employs more than 600,000 K-12 school staff.
The course helps distinguish the typical ways teenagers deal with stress – slamming doors, crying, outbursts of anger – from the warning signs of mental distress, which can be blatant or subtle.