Dayton-area students still struggle with mental health

More than three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, school-aged children are still feeling the effects on their mental health, which can spill over into the classroom.

“When students are experiencing anxiety and depression, they find it difficult to concentrate in class and therefore fail to learn academically,” said Jill Dudley, a licensed school counselor at Dayton Christian School.

Statewide, dropouts increased 29% between the 2017-18 and 2021-2022 school years, reversing the downward trend. However, suspensions both in and out of school reduced him by 11%. This means that when children are in trouble, they are in deep trouble.

The pandemic may also have disrupted children’s ability to communicate, requiring more effort to teach children how to engage face-to-face again.

“I think the rate of mental health concerns in children and adolescents is still increasing,” said Kelly Blankenship, Ph.D., deputy chief medical officer for behavioral health at Dayton Children.

In 2021, the most recent year available, suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in Ohio overall and the 2nd leading cause of death for Ohioans ages 10 to 34. However, the death toll has fallen below his 2021 record high of the past decade. There were 1,836 reported suicide deaths in 2018.

Nationally, early data on suicide in 2022 suggest a total increase of 2.6%, but an 8.4% drop in suicides aged 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .

Blankenship shared her experiences with teens who survived suicide attempts and were admitted to the Dayton Child Behavior Unit.

“Some of them told me they were crying because they were still alive and thought they were going to die after the suicide attempt,” Blankenship said. “It speaks to me how dire the situation is for these children.”

Blankenship said the pandemic is a crisis, the public health emergency is over, and while classroom settings are generally returning to their pre-pandemic style, responses may be delayed after the crisis is over. .

What is the cause of this suffering?

Children are grappling with schoolwork, new school environments, financial challenges at home, and conflicts with loved ones. Students may be homeless, have abusive parents, struggle with English classes because they don’t speak English well, or have family members stationed abroad.

“If you think about elementary school, junior high school, and high school, each of them has different worries, but I think that the combination of academic and social problems affects every age group,” says Dr. said. Anessa Alapat, Family Medicine Physician at Premier Health’s Fairborn Medical Center.

Children who suffer from food insecurity can qualify for free breakfast and lunch at school, but may still lack clothing and school supplies.

Many schools, such as Dayton Public Schools and Huber Heights, have built-in closets for students in these situations.

Sheri Coffman, district student assistance coordinator at Northmont Schools, said: She said her team is notified whenever a new person comes to school. In this area, it is common to have family members of new students in the military. Ms. Coffman said she asks her children if they are parent-deployed because it can be more stressful.

Coffman said Northmont’s 7th and 9th grade transition can be difficult for students. At Northmont, he opens the schoolhouse a day early so that these children can get used to the schoolhouse without the older children.

A constant connection to your phone and social media can be a curse.

“If you’re feeling down because of a conflict, you’ll get messages and texts that make you feel worse over and over again. You can’t get out of there,” Blankenship said. .

Children compare themselves to others on social media, Coffman said, which can provide an unrealistic depiction of everyday life.

Children who are stressed by conflicts with friends or other challenges may find it difficult to concentrate in class.

External influences on the classroom

Some parents see states that have laws about what teachers can discuss in the classroom and what books are allowed in schools, and try to limit what teachers say and do. I am concerned about the attempts of politicians to

Oakwood’s parent, Bradley Garwood, said he was concerned about changes in other states such as Florida, including banning books and banning mental health topics. It is, he argues, the removal of tools from the teacher’s toolbox.

This is an additional stressor not only for teachers, but also for already vulnerable students.

“Some children may not be able to talk about the LGTBQ community to teachers who are supposed to be part of the LGTBQ community, but who are supposed to be trustworthy people to guide them at a very important and vulnerable time in their development,” says Garwood. says Mr.

This might inspire a generation of kids who are afraid to ask questions, he says.

“I can’t imagine it not affecting your mental health,” says Garwood.

What can schools do?

Across the region, school districts are hiring school counselors and certified therapists to help children deal with the aftermath of the pandemic.

All school districts have a resident guidance counselor and others have a resident mental health therapist. Some districts have added social workers to their payroll.

School districts including Kettering, Troy, Bellbrook, Springfield and Oakwood have mental health counselors available to students. Other areas, including Miamisburg, Northmont, Dayton, Trotwood, and Beaver Creek, have full-time social workers and therapists. For example, social workers can help students deal with homelessness issues, and therapists can teach coping skills and discuss mental health.

Many school districts also contract with outside services to provide additional support for children in need of licensed professional therapy. Nearly all school districts have social and emotional learning that focuses on identifying emotions and working on skills to foster healthy relationships throughout life.

Miamisburg Superintendent Laura Blessing said the district has chosen to include safety and belonging as part of the district’s five-year strategic plan for 2021. In addition to adequate food and warmth, it is an important factor for students if they do not feel safe. It is difficult for the child to learn.

This shift in education has been called the “whole child” approach, and in recent years more school districts have been implementing it. However, not all school districts make mental health a guiding principle in their classrooms.

“It’s not just about literacy and math, it’s about how their mental and physical health is,” Blessing said.

Miamisburg’s business and faith communities are committed to helping students, Blessing said, allowing students to feel a sense of belonging to the community. These partners have donated money and time to collect school supplies for the entire school and to support social-emotional learning in after-school care.

Like Coffman, Blessing says the students’ mental health has improved. She said there is still work to be done, but the most improvement will be seen during elementary school.

“What we’re seeing is very optimistic about children’s resilience,” Coffman said.

After the pandemic, many children struggled to interact with each other, Coffman said. That means they may have gotten angry sooner, started fighting instead of saying it out loud, or started smoking e-cigarettes as an unhealthy way to deal with stress.

Blessing and Coffman said it’s important to give students the tools to better respond in the future if they influence their behavior in any way.

Northmont College asks kids to model good behavior, like a high school athlete talking to younger kids about bullying. Also, the Hope Squad is a group of children recognized by their peers as being good listeners.

“Children will typically talk to children before they talk to adults,” Coffman said.

Professor Coffman said peer voices are very important, but adult supervision is still needed to avoid putting undue pressure on students. It is clear to members of the Hope Squad that if a student tells another student that he or she is contemplating suicide, it will be immediately reported to an adult.

“When we talk about mental health issues, they’re adults in training,” she said.

What can parents do?

Blankenship said banning cellphone use and limiting screen time could help, depending on the child’s age. She suggested making a rule to not use your phone or text when you’re at the dinner table or spending time with your family. Parents can also charge their child’s cell phone in the parent’s room, so they won’t be disturbed by texts all night long.

Doctors say children who are anxious about going to school can get headaches and stomachaches. However, according to the American College of Family Medicine, it is often associated with other disorders such as anxiety and depression.

If your child is exhibiting physical symptoms, a doctor’s evaluation may be required to rule out underlying medical problems.

According to the American College of Family Physicians, doctors also recommend a collaborative approach to address school truancy that includes family physicians, school staff, parents and mental health professionals.

Parents should also try to involve their children in the conversation actively and ask open-ended questions. This helps parents connect with their children, but it also allows them to see if they are experiencing symptoms of distress, anxiety, or depression.

“The more parents can connect with their children, the sooner they will start talking seriously to their parents about what is going on, if something is wrong, if they are not feeling well, etc. Let’s go,” said Breakenship. “Parents can help their children deal with this problem, but if parents don’t know what’s going on, they can’t help their children.”

conversation starter

Five Rivers Metroparks are four locations within Montgomery County parks, including Eastwood Metroparks, Huffman Metroparks, Possum Creek Metroparks, and Sunrise Metroparks, where parents can ask their children questions. We provide nature walk guides with questions.

“More than ever, people need a place to re-center, find calm and balance,” said Bernadette Whitworth, program coordinator for Five Rivers Metroparks. “Nature can calm the mind, help people de-stress, and have a positive impact on their mental health.”

For conversation starters and other resources, parents should visit

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