The challenges of addressing mental health in students

The teenage years are vital to physical growth and development. It’s also a time where they learn how to recognize and address their mental and emotional well being. Brent Fox speaks with Heidi Mikeska, she’s part of the prevention team for Broome County Mental Health.

Brent Fox:  So what makes addressing mental health and kids and teenagers different from addressing adult mental health?

Heidi Mikeska:  That’s a good question. So what makes it different? What makes it addressing teens a little bit more challenging, I would say and different from adult. Teens are not adult, right? So they’re growing, they’re still developing. So that can be a factor on it. It can be challenging to determine if it’s typical adolescent behavior, or is it something more than that? You may you, as I mentioned, experienced things differently. For instance, depression . . . can be presented as irritability, indifference, and they may be triggered very easily, with emotionality, outbursts and things, where an adult it’s not the same, right?

Stigma is a huge part of this, too. We need to make sure that when youth are developing mental health problems, they may hesitate to ask for help, right? They may not know if their feelings are symptoms or normal, typical behavior. They may have fear that they’re going to be drawing attention to themselves. Adolescence is a time that they don’t want to stand out that way or get in trouble for their behaviors, maybe lose control of what happens next. That can be a scary thing for kids.

BF: And what kinds of mental health issues are seen most during those teenage and childhood years?

HM: Most common ones are anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance use disorders. It’s what I would put as the tops.

Broome County Mental Health

BF: And what would you say are some of the warning signs that a young person may need help?

HM: Yeah, that’s a good one. Because again, we’re talking typical behavior versus signs or symptoms or things to worry about. But things to consider and look at is, are they isolating themselves? Are they not participating in typical activities without picking up new ones? Are they missing school? Are they having changes in their friend groups? Are they sleeping or not sleeping? Are they eating or not eating? These things can sound like typical behaviors, but they may not be. So that’s one of the things we look at. Overall, though, we want to look at patterns outside their norm. And they’re happening more frequently for longer periods of time, and it’s now interfering with their daily life. Think about what’s not normal for them.

BF: And what kinds of resources are available for these young people? And how can they find them?

HM: Well, we can probably assume that kids are probably talking to their friends already. But we want to include a few other folks into that mix, right? We want to talk about trusted adults. Those are people that you can go to, to get information to get resources to get help. That can be family, that can be neighbors, school, other people, faith based. Your faith-based community, your coaches. But then we start talking like primary care, checking with your doctor, getting an appointment to talk about what’s going on.

Faith-based communities are another place that people will seek out support and help. Talking to school, talk to school guidance counselors or social workers, if you’re having concerns. Both the kid, the student or the parents can do that. The more eyes we have on people, the better off those kids can be.

And then we have some 24/7 numbers locally and nationally. 9-8-8, which is a suicide and crisis lifeline, where we say it’s more than one thing. You can call if you’re struggling, you can call if you’re in crisis, you can call if you’re having some substance use challenges as well. Cool thing about that these days, especially for young folks, it is a text as well. So you don’t have to talk to someone if you prefer to. That’s great, too. You get a trained professional on the other line on that. And then there’s that text. Text GOT5 to 741741 and that’s the Crisis Text Line. Again, that’s another resource. And we find that kids use that a lot. One of the things they’ll say, “Oh, I just want to know if this is a real number or not, if there’s a real person on the other line,” and there are trained professionals on Crisis Text Line as well. And it gets used during the school day too. So kids do use it.

Broome County Mental Health

BF: And how does the county work with schools when it comes to addressing student mental health?

HM: Well, we partner on a variety efforts on New York State Department of Education as well as the Office of Mental Health. We work with local supports and providers for things such as school based mental health clinics. So having clinics inside schools looking at trauma-informed work, and how does that impact the school, school day and the school year. Having community schools, philosophy and opportunities and providers in your building. And we look at providing resources, training and workshop opportunities for both staff, students and the community. So they become aware of what wellness is and when challenges are and what to look for.

BF: And why is it important that these issues be addressed when they come up? And what can happen if they’re not addressed?

HM: Well, because many health behaviors and habits are established in adolescence, they can carry over into your adulthood, right? And we want to make sure it’s important to develop good mental habits as when we’re young so we can reach out when those things are occurring and being able to address immediately. So there’s help. Where there’s help there’s hope, right? And we want to make sure that the more mental health is discussed as part of our everyday language, the greater the chances are that kids, individuals and adults will reach out when they’re struggling. The more it becomes common knowledge, like you wouldn’t wait 10 years to fix a broken arm, right? We want to ensure the same thing for mental health. Mental health is health, and it’s just as important as our physical health.

If you or someone you know is in need of mental help call 9-8-8 or text GOT5 to 741741.

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