Written By: Robin Reid
Remember the days in Morgan County where kids grew up in two-parent families, didn’t have a cell phone, computer or a social media account, and weren’t experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety? Talk with any teacher, counselor, or social worker in our school systems and they’ll tell you how technology, social issues such as bullying, and family dysfunction are affecting our children’s health (physical, mental, emotional) and ability to learn.
The Community Foundation of Morgan County has identified children’s mental health as a real problem in our communities, especially our schools. Now more than ever is the time for us to break the stigma of mental health and help kids become healthier and productive individuals.
Why should that matter to you? Because, they will be the leaders, employees, and parents of our county’s future.
“Kids today don’t have the coping skills to handle the difficulties or trauma they’re experiencing inside and outside of their homes. These problems can include receiving a bad grade, someone calling them weird, or a family member abusing them. They become super angry quickly, yell, or slam their hands down on their desk when something happens. These outbursts can’t be tied to one particular population of kids, because we’re seeing it happen across the board,” said Niki Walls, a Youth First Social Worker at Bell Intermediate Academy in Martinsville.
According to Walls, numerous fifth and sixth-grade students at Bell are struggling with self-esteem and coping skills as they try to navigate through difficulties at home and/or school. They are stressed out and addicted to social media, both of which make it hard for them to concentrate and do well in their classes.
“Everyone asks me what’s the biggest issue I handle with these students. I would honestly say the root of it stems from their lack of self-esteem. Many of them, unfortunately, hate themselves,” added Walls. “I challenged one student to write four positive things about themselves and they really struggled in completing the task.”
On any given day, Walls is talking with students who are abused at home, living with a grandparent because either mom or dad are incarcerated or struggling with addiction, experiencing thoughts of suicide, being bullied by peers and more. When these kids should be thinking about having fun at the school dance, excited about Christmas break, or looking forward to the next field trip, instead they’re stressed and feeling anxious most of the time.
Many students are experiencing some type of trauma at home which makes it very difficult for them to cope. The trauma can be defined as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) of abuse, neglect and family dysfunction. ACEs impact a child’s brain development and hinder their emotional, social and learning capabilities.
- Almost half (46.2%) of Indiana’s children have experienced one or more ACEs.
- 41% of children with two or more ACEs are four times more likely to be bullied at school.
- Kids with two or more ACEs are at a higher risk for developing emotional disorders, behavioral problems, and chronic illnesses.
Walls said managing children’s mental health in the schools requires a plan and a proactive mindset. “When a student comes to a class with a disability, either physical or cognitive, there’s a proactive plan created to address their needs. We adapt to their struggles and make it work for them. We need to do the same for mental health. If a child is in a wheelchair, it’s easy to see their disability. However, we can’t always know when a child is dealing with trauma, so we have to pay attention to their behaviors, like an outburst in class. Regardless of how it happens, we must address it and have a plan. We can’t just ignore it and expect it to go away.”
“We need to break the stigma of mental health and teach people, especially kids, that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s not a bad thing to talk with a social worker or a counselor. What we, as adults, may not think is a big deal is actually a very big deal to a kid. For example, losing a pet can be traumatizing to a child, especially if they haven’t learned how to cope with loss. We need to develop the understanding it’s not that something is wrong with a child, but that they have room to grow and develop,” Walls added.
Children experiencing mental health issues is a real problem in our schools. The Community Foundation of Morgan County (CFMC) has identified real solutions like funding Youth First social workers to be placed in local schools. Partnering with our community through private and corporate philanthropy makes these real solutions possible. Click here to give today and help change lives tomorrow.