Students are dealing with heightened anxiety and stress throughout the US following the May 24th shooting that killed 19 students and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The shooting sparked some Washington State students to demand more mental health counselors.
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More than 100 students from Seattle’s Roosevelt High School walked out of class on June 2nd to demand more mental health counselors as well as stricter gun laws. Psychologist Dr. Jodi Daly, President and CEO of Comprehensive Healthcare in Yakima, counsels adolescents in Eastern Washington. She said providers are seeing an increased amount of requests for mental health and substance abuse services throughout the state. But there may not be enough providers to manage the demand.
“There is a lot of fear and trepidation around safety at this point,” Daly said. “We are seeing more people wanting treatment but there’s a workforce shortage so there are barriers for people seeking services. It will take all community stakeholders and influencers, including our state representatives, to address it. We need to be innovative.”
In addition to gun violence, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase anxiety for students as well, Daly said.
“The pandemic heightened all our levels of isolation,” she said. “There was a shared feeling of isolation. Generally, in a shared feeling we come together. The weird thing about the pandemic is there is a shared feeling level but we’re working in silos. How do we bring people together to offer a level of protectiveness?”
Adolescents are a high-risk population for mental health concerns due to the large variety of living conditions they are in, Daly said.
“If someone is being discriminated against, is part of an abusive family, or has limited family support they will be at greater risk,” she said. “There are other risks due to their surrounding environment. You can layer that risk with people who have reoccurring [health] issues, intellectual disabilities, or medical conditions.”
Adolescence is the most crucial period for mental and social development, Daly said, and mental health challenges can block students from developing healthy coping mechanisms and sleep patterns. With such high demand for assistance paired with a mental health workforce shortage, prevention strategies are crucial, she said.
An effective preventive technique involves teaching as many people “first aid” techniques as possible, Daly said. This teaches people to watch for risky behavior that could signal a problem.
“Mental health first aid is very similar to basic first aid,” she said. “It’s about teaching everyone and anyone in any community. lf I’m hanging out with someone who is usually on time and whose behaviors are usually consistent, but in the last two weeks I’ve noticed they’re not on time, I need to be able to question those things. Or to pull someone in to have a conversation to make sure they’re okay. It’s community first aid.”
Comprehensive Healthcare will host a youth mental health first aid course on June 16th from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm.
Various community members, including family members, church leaders, school systems, and youth clubs need to be involved in discussions to determine how to establish environments that will help students manage their emotions, Daly said.
“We need to have these conversations and not be in denial,” she said. “We should be shielding our adolescents so they can have a full discussion on what is concerning them. How do we create safe spaces and allow them to have that space, to get out of their heads and get what they’re feeling off their chests?”
Adolescents need to be assured that they have support, and that people care for them, Daly said.
“The pandemic has caused stress,” Daly said. “We’re burnt out and so are adolescents. Being kind, helpful, and useful is something we really have to get more in tune to these days. Just telling people we’re thinking about them is helpful. It’s easy to get disconnected. Take time off from your phone and have a little break. There are some families that [have] family time and all the phones go in a drawer. I think that needs to happen more.”