As a Howard County parent who’s been active on the School Health Council (SHC), I attended the Howard County Adolescent Mental Health Symposium on Sept. 27, 2016. The Symposium was organized by a committee (including Joan, HC DrugFree's Executive Director and Vice Chair of the School Health Council) following an SHC General Meeting that dealt with the problems of stress, anxiety, and depression among students. Actually, it was an Atholton High School student member of the SHC who first recommended that we explore this problem. So, last Spring, a panel of students shared their experiences with school-related stress, anxiety, and depression with a roomful of concerned adults—and this touched a nerve.
A panel of students spoke at yesterday’s Symposium, too—this time to a room full of public health, social service, and school system administrators. The students represented many different high schools throughout our county. I’ll relate some of their suggestions regarding what might help what appears to be an epidemic of stress affecting the health of our youth. While not all are feasible, they are all worth considering.
Per our students, our schools should…
Focus on learning, not on tests
Cut down on homework
Give students breaks during school, to decompress
Have social workers in the schools to help students who are in crisis or need counseling, since counselors and psychiatrists are often busy and unavailable
Allow students to go outside, if they want, after lunch (to exercise or be in nature)
Allow for a school/life balance
Show teens the consequences of making bad choices (using drugs, etc.)
Help students identify sources of stress and develop good coping skills
Teach meditation and yoga (a student who said she was “forced” to do it said it really helped!)
Cater to each student’s needs (for instance, standing desks for those who have a hard time sitting for too long)
Teach life skills (how to do taxes, for instance)
Hold students accountable for their actions (parents included)
Help youth address problems at home
Also, a physician asked the students what physicians should do to help teens…
Ask teens how much sleep they got last night—that will tell physicians a lot about teens’ health and stress level
Have a private conversation with teens, without parents in the exam room
Form a trusting relationship
Don’t judge teens for bad decisions—instead, empathize
Help teen make a plan
Many people, adults included, end up self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol when dealing with stress, anxiety and/or depression in order to escape and feel “numb”. Let’s check in with our kids and ask how it’s going. Let’s help them find balance and make it okay to share their feelings. Let’s help them avoid the trap of using negative, and often addictive, coping mechanisms to deal with their stress.