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May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  In recognition of mental health as one of the most important pieces of school safety today, we asked Safe and Sound advisors, Dr. Melissa Reeves and Dr. Stephen Brock to weigh in on what they see in our K-12 schools today.

Safe and Sound Schools:  Drs. Reeves and Brock, what are the top 5 mental health issues and themes you see in our K-12 schools currently?

Drs. Reeves and Brock:  It’s difficult to pick just 5, but these make up a great deal of the mental health work we are seeing in the field of K-12 School Safety today.

Two key mental health challenges our schools are facing are:

1. Suicidal ideation and behavior among students.

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the CDC, rates have significantly increased since 2008 (after over a decade of decline). Nineteen states have passed laws requiring suicide prevention education for educators, the most recent being California. On September 26, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2246 which requires all schools serving students from grades 7 to 12 to adopt comprehensive suicide prevention policies (that address suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention).

2. Increased anxiety due to demands and social pressures.

Academic demands continue to increase and students are feeling the pressures to take more challenging classes. Social pressures, the constant comparisons to others via social media, and readily available access to information for which children and youth may not be ready to comprehend and process, are all contributing to higher levels of anxiety. Schools are beginning to teach students anxiety management strategies to better cope with these stressors.

On the positive side, these are three trends we see schools taking to address mental health in schools:

1. Integration of mental wellness into the curriculum.

Social emotional learning (SEL) programs not only help to keep our young people psychologically well, they have been shown to improve academic performance and decrease referrals for negative behaviors.

2. Prompt identification and treatment of mental illness.

Half of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses emerge during the school years (by age 14). The school environment is the perfect setting for early identification. Universal mental wellness screenings should become as common as vision and hearing screenings.

3. Increasing mental health services and staffing in schools.

Research shows that mental health treatment compliance increases 21 times when it is provided in a school vs. in a community setting. School-employed mental health professionals can work directly with students to learn social-emotional skills that increase social competence and academic achievement, and decrease mental health challenges.

 


Dr. Reeves is President of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools. Dr. Brock is the former President of NASP and speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools.

In today’s climate of fear and uncertainty, children need to feel a sense of security…

carin_head-sqOn September 8, 2001, Michael Iken sat down with his wife Monica and told her that he had a feeling that he was going to leave this earth suddenly. He did not know how this would occur, but the feeling was strong. Michael told Monica that he had no regrets, that he loved her deeply and that he felt at peace. Three days later, he died in the second tower of the World Trade Center.

Five days after the tragic events of 9/11, I met Monica Iken for the first time, through my uncle, one of the only survivors at Euro Brokers. He was Michael’s best friend.

While talking with Monica and hearing her story, a clear vision came to me: one of Monica as a leader and spokesperson for a Memorial at the World Trade Center Site. When I shared this with her, Monica shrugged it off saying “That’s impossible. I am a kindergarten teacher. I love my job, and I plan to keep teaching.”

Ten years later, in the spring of 2011, I watched Monica live on CNN, speaking at Ground Zero beside President Barack Obama and former Mayor Giuliani. Monica, now the CEO of September’s Mission, was representing the 9/11 families participating in the building of the Memorial. Watching Monica on television, I felt a profound sense of interconnectedness. I witnessed a sense of grace demonstrated by those that overcome tragedy with resilience, service, and love.

In the wake of this profound experience, I reconnected with Monica and shared with her my vision for creating a curriculum for schools, designed to decrease high-risk behavior, violence and bullying, while addressing social and emotional challenges. We discussed a shared goal of creating this kind of program for NYC schools, and Monica expressed that this was very much in line with the goals of September’s Mission.

Years later we continue to work together. Mission Be reaches more and more schools with a message of forgiveness, resiliency, strength and hope. And now in partnership with Safe and Sound Schools, we look to reach school communities across the country.


Learn more about Carin as a speaker and workshop presenter on our Safe and Sound website and at Mission Be.