Two years ago, I had the privilege of having a conversation with student Lorena Sanabria, who attended a national education conference during the 2017 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. When we were sitting on the stage, Lorena, who was 17 at the time but was far more intelligent than her age, shared that one of the most difficult things after the tragedy happened was the pressure to “return to normal”. In the weeks following the shooting that killed 17 people, kind teachers and parents encouraged Lorena and her peers to regain their old lives. But, as she shared, “We tried to tell them that normality will never be’normal’ again.”
Lorena’s words that day resonated with me, and her story has been with me ever since.In recent weeks, as governor, mayor and person in charge, I have recalled it time and time again Discuss the plan The school was reopened and “returned to normal” in the fall.
Although their optimism after the iconic month of the COVID-19 recovery milestone makes sense, even a cursory glance at the children’s mental health data clearly shows that it is impossible to truly “return to normal” this fall.
Children hospitalized due to mental health problems Rose by more than a quarter By 2020, more than half of 11-17 year-old children Report There are often thoughts of suicide or self-harm.The demand for children’s mental health services is so great that it forces many providers breaking point, And even prompted the Colorado Children’s Hospital Announce The pediatric mental health emergency last month.
It is natural for schools to seek to return to normal, but it may actually be counterproductive. Students who return from our door in the fall will endure the stress, anxiety and trauma of the past year. As Lorena shared in 2019, as I have seen during consultations with schools on health and safety related issues over the past decade, the idea of strengthening normalcy negates their perception of abnormal things.
So, what is the alternative way to return to normal? In the end, it was satisfied with another abnormal school year—even if it was the last thing students, educators, and parents wanted. It is establishing a system to ensure that no students fall into the cracks and escalate into violence or self-harm.
With so many competing priorities this fall, it is no easy task. But the good news is that most schools have already laid a solid foundation for this work through their COVID-19 response agreements.
Since March 2020, all the hard work done by the school to establish health and safety measures and mechanisms need not be wasted simply because it reduces the likelihood of serious illness and death from the virus. Schools can translate these agreements to solve mental health problems.
1. Eliminate the stigmatization of mental health challenges by incorporating mental health issues into daily COVID-19 health screenings.
Two years ago, the idea of having to undergo daily temperature checks and health checks as admission tickets to the school building seemed absurd. But now it has become so common that people have adapted to their morning habits. This is almost an afterthought.
Schools can achieve a similar level of comfort through mental health dialogue. One strategy involves asking each student how they feel each day. This can be as simple as adding a question to the morning health check, for example, “How are you feeling today?” or “Do you have any special thoughts today?”
The specific content of the question is more important than the fact that the question was raised. The goal is to keep a large number of visible and accessible adults outside in the morning to notice when students are unusual or different. Incorporating this compassionate registration into daily life can help eliminate conversations about mental health challenges and ensure that employees have the means to recognize and resolve emotional distress as early as possible.
2. Establish a strong threat assessment system, imitate the COVID-19 response protocol, and resolve problems before they become bigger problems.
At this point, most schools have developed strong COVID-19 response protocols to mitigate and minimize risks, such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, contact tracing, and isolation. A similar process can be used to detect potential threats to campus security.
Threat assessment is the process of collecting data to determine a student’s risk of violence or self-harm. In this case, “data” does not necessarily mean digital data, but about the student’s communication and behavior, about any stress or negative events they experienced, and about any resources that the student can use to solve these difficulties. Related Information.
Together, all this information can help school staff identify students who may pose a threat to themselves or others, and evaluate the problem through the threat assessment system. In order to build a successful threat assessment system, the school must first establish clear procedures, and then—a step that is often forgotten—let the community know where and how to report problems. They must also provide training for key employees such as principals, nurses, and counselors so that they understand how to conduct threat assessments to students.
3. Use resources dedicated to contact tracing to strengthen contact with family members.
research shows Building closer ties between school and family can increase the child’s chances of success. Understanding the challenges that children have faced in the past 15 months and how they have had relationships with their families during distance learning, we should now attach more importance to this family-school connection than ever before.
As more vaccinations are provided for young children in the coming months, the prevalence and transmission of COVID-19 cases in schools will inevitably decrease. But this does not mean that resources dedicated to contact tracking must be wasted. Schools that invest time and energy in strengthening contact tracing can reuse these resources, call families to strengthen these connections, and better understand the issues that families face each week. This can provide valuable insights into the mental health of students and build a stronger relationship between family and school staff, which will be a useful foundation on which to rely on any problems.
Schools will play a key role as we enter the next phase of the pandemic response and work to address the surge in children’s mental health challenges. But they don’t have to start from scratch. Many systems and practices established during this global health crisis can easily be transformed into solutions to the mental health crisis that awaits us.