2020 was a challenging year, to say the least, with the pandemic, racial injustice, the increase of violence, and many of our children not attending school in person. It has indeed been a year of trauma. Even though children were allowed to spend most of their time with parents and other caregivers, there was a deficit in peer interaction that could yield less than desirable results. The loss of social connection, grief from loved ones lost, etc., is a lot for any child to handle emotionally.
So, the real question now becomes, what should be our priorities as we swiftly move toward the preliminary stages of beginning a complete return to in-person learning in August? The top priority should be to ensure all educators know the need for trauma-informed care for the students as they return. Some students have been victims of abuse, hunger, homelessness, etc. We must prepare teachers and staff to recognize signs of distress among students, increase the availability of mental health services and resources, address stigma through mental health literacy and teach students to manage feelings through the slowness of the pandemic.
More is being learned daily about the toll of the pandemic and day-to-day events on the mental health of everyone. It is paramount that our priority focus is on ensuring children, youth, and young adults are afforded all mental health support necessary to thwart depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide, which has increased over 25% in the aforementioned age group the past year, according to M. A. Reger, I. H. Stanley and T. E. Joiner co-authored: Suicide mortality and coronavirus disease 2019: a perfect storm. Therefore, particular emphasis must be afforded as their mental health has been disproportionately impacted compared to older adults. Additionally, we must also be mindful that gun and domestic violence has also increased to 31%, and both can cause significant trauma for any student who witnessed either.
As educators, we must be committed to providing support. However, to do so, we cannot disregard the fact that we are all different, and we all come from various backgrounds and experiences, which warrant an increased level of care. We must master the art of being empathic communicators and work tirelessly to attain the trust of parents and students. That means we must broaden our reach and think outside our comfort levels to meet the students, parents, and patrons at the point where they mentally and physically are independent of subjecting them to our personal bias.
Not only should educators be prepared to provide the support independent of bias, as should community members, parents, and patrons. It takes a village to educate children. That adage has not changed. We cannot address the mental health needs alone; it will take the support of the coaches, doctors, caregivers, extended family members, and more, which all impact how children and youth think about and care for their mental health as well as how they treat others who have mental health challenges.
Additionally, we must bring the conversation to life by recognizing that mental health can negatively impact our physical health. If I am not mentally in a good place, my overall well-being can suffer because during those periods. The likelihood of being able to eat healthily (if at all), as well as exercise, becomes a struggle. Therefore, to be impactful when supporting children as they grow into adulthood, we must augment our understanding of mental health and care for it as we do our physical health independent of stigma and judgment.
We must be committed to being mindful of the challenges we now face as we move full speed toward the long-awaited post-COVID era. Accepting the fact that mental health support is needed coupled with having respect is a mandate. And as we do, we must be committed to avoiding being timid about having those tough conversations as it is necessary to embrace and support students with not only words but also resources. By doing so, we can help change the trajectory of the lives of the students we serve and allow them to have a full, productive, and healthy life.
About the Author
Dr. Frederick Fields is an educational consultant and author of Educator’s Strategies for Effective Relationships and Conversations with Millennials and Generation Z Parents. He holds a Doctorate of Education from Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University. He currently serves as Senior Director of Student Services for an urban midwestern school district, where he oversees the Counseling & College/Workshop Readiness Department, Student Health Services, Student Hearing Office, Alternative Learning Programs, Student Registration, Homeless Education Program, Student Attendance, Dropout Prevention/Truancy, Care Program (affordable before and after school child care), Mental Health Departments, and Juvenile Detention Coordinators.
Armed with over thirty years of teaching, administration, community engagement, training, and leadership skills, he serves with passion and fidelity. All in hopes of ensuring that every student, family, and community receives the best educational experience. All while working tirelessly to bridge the gap between generations and formulating winning strategies on education and customer service in the post-pandemic era..
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