Thursday, September 26, 2013

Students and Mental Health

A week ago Valerie Strauss, of the Washington Post, wrote about the impact of mental health issues on students. Nothing there is shocking but it is still eye-opening and worth reading.

The statistics she shares are interesting, but leave a lot of questions:
Over 70 percent of students diagnosed with mental illness and behavioral health problems by middle school exhibited warning signs by second grade.
• Almost 25 percent exhibited red flags during pre-kindergarten years, including developmental and health issues, adverse social factors and exposure to trauma.
• Twenty-five percent of the children studied had documented traumatic experiences in their records.
So, I would guess that the warning signs exhibited by second grade are exhibited by plenty of students. Noting that students later identified with mental illness or behavioral health problems had such symptoms doesn't mean we should have been able to identify it early. It's much more complicated than this makes it sound.

That last statistic, about the children with documented traumatic experiences, hit hard for me today. We had a practice lock down this morning. I explained the procedure to my first graders, attempting to keep it not too scary but understandable about why we do it and how. After I finished a number of students wanted to share. The first one told a story about a time her family had to lock their doors and call the police because a person downstairs had a knife and killed someone (not sure if someone actually died because she also said the person who was killed was put in an ambulance). Others shared times they had to call the police or get an ambulance, although no other stories were quite as scary to me.

I know many of my students over the years have experienced traumatic events. I'm not sure I know how to help them. Recognizing that they have these experiences or that they have symptoms of mental health issues doesn't mean I have any knowledge about what to do next. I'm lucky enough to be in a district with lots of resources. That's not true everywhere. Our kids deserve the best we can give them. All of them.

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