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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
July 22, 2019

6/4/2019 2:15:00 PM
Kids' mental health a community issue
For Crawford County LIFE

I am writing this article as a community member, an employee of the school district, as a mother, and in conjunction with the Crawford County Life organization, whose mission is to advocate and educate for mental health.  

It is because of my position as RHS principal, and my experiences at RHS, that I am now sending out a "rallying cry" to this community: we need to collaboratively and cooperatively come together and bring more mental health resources into Crawford County.  

I wholeheartedly believe this arduous task of bringing mental health providers into our area is possible. Robinson is different from other small rural communities because of its many active volunteer organizations and passionate people. This town continues to be a great place to live, with a top-notch school district. However, if action is not taken immediately, I fear what this community will look like in a decade.   

So what have I and other educators witnessed that have caused such alarm? Student and family mental-health issues, every single day.  The quantity and quality of problems faced by our students and their families would be shocking to those who have not been within the public school setting within the last five years: suicidal thoughts, regular self-harm, overwhelming anxiety and devastating depression.  

"But why is this a community problem?" one might ask.

The school environment is a microcosm of our community - by that, I mean an accurate reflection of what is happening in our community.  If our students at RHS and other local schools are needing mental health help, so do adult community members.

Because public schools are not providers of mental health, referrals are made.  However, the options of places, organizations, hotlines, or practitioners are severely limited, or are non-viable for those in need because of cost and/or distance. The wait list for the limited local mental-health providers has been steady atsix to eight months, because of the sheer number of people seeking help.

A brief explanation of what is causing this mental health crisis, not just in our community, but throughout our nation, is summed up by one statement found on the Centers for Disease Control website.  "Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity."

Put simply, when children experience abuse and neglect, it could potentially negatively impact the rest of their lives.  

The groundbreaking research that identified childhood trauma and the resulting effects was the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study. There is a brief 10-question, yes-or-no ACE survey that provides a score for a point received for each "yes" response.

What is most surprising is that according to the CDC's data,  "ACEs are common across all populations. Almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs."

This research found that when children are exposed to adverse experiences in unhealthy environments, their brains adapt to survive. so they become very reactionary, almost constantly stuck in "flight or fight" mode.  

Unfortunately, this forced-physiological-survival-brain adaptation resulting from exposure to unstable environments will be present in regulated environments as well. In a healthy, stable setting (like a school), this reactionary survival behavior will manifest as erratic, defiant, impulsive, and/or even emotionally unpredictable behavior. As a former school nurse, Jackie Tuttle, once eloquently stated, "They dance the dance they are taught."

However, hope is not lost.  At RHS, we have witnessed student victories on this mental health battlefront when a mental health provider was sought. If the childhood trauma is addressed by mental-health professionals, children and adult survivors of ACEs have a greater chance of breaking the cycle and leading healthier, happier lives. Based on what Robinson educators are seeing in all of the schools, this community is in desperate need of more local mental health options for children and adults alike.    

To gain a better understanding of topics addressed, I encourage anyone that read this article to: 1) Find the CDC-Kaiser ACE Survey and/or research online 2) Watch the documentary Paper Tigers by KPJR Films 3) Engage educators you know in a conversation about their day-to-day experiences 4) Get involved with the Crawford County LIFE organization.

These occasional guest columns are provided by Crawford County LIFE, a new local non-profit that "exists to liberate residents of preconceived ideas and addictive behaviors by educating to improve understanding of themselves and their needs; to facilitate community resources with the goal to empower residents toward better emotional, physical and mental health." For more information, check out Crawford County LIFE's Facebook page.

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