I still remember the murmurs. The huddled discussions in the hallway and the closed door meetings. I bet you can visualize the scene in your head. Adults whispering to one another in hushed tones.
And what was the topic?
The child that we all feel fear for. The child that for little to no reason explodes. The child that withdraws and is noticeably depressed. The child that shows ZERO remorse. The child that has an emotional impairment.
During my time as a classroom teacher and now, principal, my most challenging issues have easily been students with an emotional impairment. I can vividly remember each and every case. I can still remember the meetings that lasted month after month after month with hardly any action...until...
A few years ago I dealt with my first Emotionally Impaired student. I saw what the blow-ups did to the student's peers. I saw what the outbursts did to teachers. I felt the anxiety day in and day out. I didn't want to restrain, I tried my best to talk the student through it. But all I could do, all any of us could do was try our best.
And there in lies the rub. When you are in the midst of difficult situations most people try their best. But, is your best talk or action?
My first experience with mental illness scared me.
* When I was called into the classroom after the student threw scissors.
* When I received word that students had evacuated the classroom and the student was throwing desks.
* When the student had to be carried to the office by multiple adults.
But, when I went into the storage area in the gym and saw the student's eyes, I was scared for him. I saw the darkness in his eyes. I didn't see the same boy I typically saw. He couldn't control it, the mental illness controlled him. That day he hit me with a baseball bat more than 50 times. At no point was I scared for myself...I was always scared for my students and staff.
Until that happened, change was very slow. My experiences have taught me that change occurs when something EXTREME happens. As adults we close doors, we talk, we complete rating scales, we observe the student and we talk some more. If the talk doesn't turn into action then I call it a waste.
So I ask, are we reactive or proactive?
We weren't and still are not equipped to handle volatile mental disorders. Eventually the student began to receive help. But not until the outbursts were witnessed by hundreds. We are doing our kids a disservice by not providing timely intervention.
Let's take a look at the trends, statistics and research
* 1 out of 5 children are diagnosed with a mental health problem
* The onset of mental illness often occurs between the ages of 7-11 years of age
* 21% of low-income children between 6-17 years of age have mental health problems
* 70% of youth in a juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental health disorder
* 80% of children in need of mental health services do not receive them
Let's take a peek at our Nations Suicide Rate: In 1986 the Suicide Rate was at an alarming 12.5%. At this point the need for support to all people increased. As a nation we saw an increased surge of psychiatrists and psychologists. This did have a positive impact, and by the year 2000 the Suicide Rate dropped to 10.0%. Things were trending in a positive way. Yet, from 2001 to 2013 we have taken a major step back. As of 2013 the Suicide Rate was at 12.6%...higher than the "alarming" 12.5% of 1986.
Let me ask you, what group would you imagine has the highest rate of Suicide? I was surprised to discover...white males made up 70% of all suicides in 2013.
Research states only 20% of children with mental health disorders are identified and receive mental health service/support.
The bottom line is Mental Illness and Emotional Impairments are real issues in our society. The articles and research clearly support that this is not an issue that can be ignored or wished away. The longer children go undiagnosed, or worse, untreated, the more likely that they will end up hurting themselves or others.
Let me clearly state that I do not believe we should test everyone. I'm not a proponent of screening the masses and shoving pills in children. That's not what this is about. When it comes to medication I believe that is between a doctor and the parents. What I do believe in is adding supports to our youth.
I bet there are some schools and districts that have strong supports in place to assist students with mental health disorders and the child's family. But I venture to guess the majority of schools in our nation are simply not equipped to fully support mental health disorders and emotional impairments. Two years ago I was asked this question by a second year education major, "What certification/minor would you believe is in highest demand?" Without blinking I told her, "If you have an EI certification and you are good at what you do...you can pick where you want to work." This advice doesn't prove that I own a crystal ball...this advice was simply me seeing an alarming trend. Mental Health is on the rise and programs to support these students are nearly impossible to access. It truly feels as though EI programs for schools are "Gate Keepers". Ultimately they decide who gets in and who doesn't. Let's be honest, it's a numbers game.
Why Such Challenges?
Over the last five years I see a few specific hurdles to assisting students with mental health disorders.
The first hurdle is parents. As a parent myself I understand. I've sat in doctor's offices and discussed medication. I've gone to psychologists and discussed the pros and cons. I DO understand. But what I don't understand is the thought process that doing nothing will fix the problem. Unfortunately that is what I most often see and hear. Parents feel their child will grow out of it or they need more academic support. I say this, "Hogwash!" Schools that I know don't make decisions on one event. Schools that I know bring a TEAM to the table and try multiple supports. Yet parent push back is nearly inevitable.
The second hurdle is programs. This is a big one. Many schools do not have Emotional Impairment classrooms. If you are faced with a lack of programming I would hope that you would seek assistance from outside agencies. Other options are partnerships with other districts or hiring specialists/consultants to help with both the child and parents. But with all that being said, you still may be facing a shortage of spots or programs. This is where I think many schools are. My suggestion: Create the program! Yes, I said it, create the program that helps our MOST AT-RISK kids.
The third hurdle is money. I understand that programs have costs attached to them. I can't simply wave a wand and pay for the programs. But what I can say is that if we do not put something in place this growing epidemic will continue to increase.
I often wonder why is it so difficult to help our kids? I think I can speak for most of us and say, "We're all on the same team." But we aren't working together in an efficient manner when it comes to our Emotionally Impaired kids. Mental Health Disorders are not going away...in fact they are on the rise.
This post is a true reflection of many schools in America. We all have encountered the student that is showing clear signs of a mental illness. How will we work together to help our Most At-Risk students?
If you find yourself struggling to support Mental Illness or Emotional Impairment I encourage you to share this post and the following articles. This is a CALL TO ACTION for key stakeholders to put the necessary programs in place and support our students with mental illnesses.
Many Teens Struggle with Untreated Mental Illness
Children's Mental Health
The Emotional Well-Being of Our Nation's Youth
NEXT WEEK AT A GLANCE:
Monday, February 16th: President's Day No School
Tuesday, February 17th: TEAM meeting 9am
Tuesday, February 17th: 3pm grades K-3 Girl Scout Interest meeting
Wednesday, February 18th: Grades 3-5 Assembly in the gym at 8:45am
Wednesday, February 18th: PLC time meet with 3rd grade
Wednesday, February 18th: String Team
Thursday, February 19th: CP Federal Credit Union 2pm
Friday, February 20th: Birthday Luncheon
Articles Worth Reading:
What If... @DaisyDyerDuerr
Is Leadership Style Born...Or Made? @DJrSchug
Voxer 101 @Joe_Mazza
School Improvement VS We Suck Less @curriculumblog
Piling On? @jonharper70bd
It Started With a Teacher @GustafsonBrad
When Characters Won't Wait @AmeDyckman
Get Organized...Digitally @8Amber8
Are We Failing Extroverts? @edrethink
20 Habits Happy Couples Have (but never talk about) @marcandangel
Videos Worth Watching:
Longshot (11 min)
She said what? (1 min)
Hashtag - Why I'm Single (2 min)