You Matter special focuses on mental health and the return to school

You Matter

The mental health of our children is critical. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in young people ages 10 to 24, surpassing homicide. Advocates say the calls for help are only increasing as the pandemic lengthens.

Once again students are heading back to school amid a spike in coronavirus cases, this time triggered by the Delta variant. It promises to be another stressful school year for families, teachers and support staff.

Many metro school districts have made the tough decisions to require students to wear masks, at least at the beginning of the school year. The decisions come as districts struggle to get children vaccinated against COVID-19.

Advocats say it all adds up to a lot of stress, especially for children and teenagers.

Jewish Family Services said when the pandemic started, some families thrived. They were forced to be together and depend on each other and calls to the suicide hotline declines. JFS said that has changed as stay-at-home orders were extended and distance learning became necessary.

“Since about January or February of this year of 2021, we’ve seen it increase again,” Sondra Wallace, Mental Health Coalition for Jewish Family Services, said. “And we really feel like that is because at first families were connected, and they were together, there was a lot of support within the structures. And then as things started to open back up, and as people, some people were able to get back on their feet. fairly recently, the gap between families and students that were able to be successful quickly and still struggling.”

Other teenagers are anxious about how their friends will react if they wear masks and their friends don’t, or if they aren’t vaccinated and their friends already have the vaccine.

Teachers are concerned that there will be noticeable academic gaps that could cause issues. Young children in Kindergarten and first grade may be anxious and lagging behind because of how the pandemic impacted their early years of school.

WARNING SIGNS

A clinical therapist at Samuel U. Rodgers Health said there are changes you can look for when it comes to kids who could be struggling. These are some of the behaviors to watch:

  • Extreme isolation
  • Change of friends
  • Distancing
  • Trouble connecting with others
  • Loss of interest

If you are concerned about your child, make an appointment with a doctor or therapist. Telehealth appointments may even be possible.

WHERE TO LOOK FOR HELP

There are many places that have programs and services to help.

  • Doctors
    • If your child has a pediatrician, ask for advice there
  • School Districts
    • School districts across the metro are ramping up efforts and staff to help students who may be struggling.
    • All kids of services from counseling available during school hours to assistance for families struggling to pay rent and other bills are offered, you just need to ask
  • Family Friends or Coaches
    • Is there someone outside of your home that your child connects with? Maybe that’s a person who could provide a different perspective.
  • Community Organizations
    • Library branches
      • Some work with Jewish Family Services to offer programs to help build coping skills, address anxiety, or just offer a safe space to share.
    • Community Centers
      • Jewish Family Services also works with community centers across the metro to offer counseling and other programs

DO WHAT YOU CAN

The behavioral health team at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center encourages parents to pay attention to how their children are feeling.

  • Acknowledge the feeling
  • Have your child describe the feeling and help identify it
  • Talk through the feeling to help your child process it
  • Be honest about your own struggles and how you cope with them

“I think we as people think we’re often times good at hiding our emotions or at least we think we are, but our children are very smart. They know when something is off. And they also know when they’re being lied to, to some extent,” Michael Nobo, Behavioral Health Practice Manager at Samuel U. Rodgers, said. “So being very honest about what’s happening and how you’re feeling, in an age-appropriate conversation can happen very easily and I think it would be very beneficial for the child to learn what’s going on and to normalize it.”

SCHOOL DISTRICTS

The majority of school districts in the Kansas City metro are taking steps to help your students. The following are what just a handful districts are planning.

  • Kansas City, Kansas School District
    • Posters with QR codes will be placed around middle and high school buildings
    • Targeting bathrooms
      • It’s often the only private location students have while at school.
      • That’s where students go to be alone during a time of crisis
    • Students can scan the QR codes and instantly get phone numbers for hotlines and other emergency services that can help

  • North Kansas City School District
    • Launching “The Hope Squad
      • It takes a proactive approach to suicide prevention, instead of a reactive one
      • Will teach students that it’s OK to not be OK and to ask for help
      • Program will involved students and parents
      • Teach teenagers how to be there for friends and what to do if/when they need help
    • Works with Clay County Children’s Fund to offer other services
  • Olathe School District
    • Offered a summer mental health clinic with individual and group services
    • Plan to offer FREE in-school and after school mental health care for students
  • Shawnee Mission District
    • Adding staff to put mental health professionals in every school with a focus on middle school students because there isn’t as much help available for that age group
    • Homeless liaison to work with struggling families to keep them in their homes, pay bills and cover basic needs

SAMUEL U. RODGERS HEALTH CENTER

The sponsor of our coverage provides mental health services in addition to regular medical care for families across the metro. You do not need to live in Kansas City, Missouri, to take advantage of these resources.

Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center has a full like of available services.

WALLET SAFETY PLAN

If your older student is feeling overwhelmed, a wallet size safety plan could help.

Ada Jarrar is a therapist at Samuel U. Rodgers Health and has some of her clients make a card that will fit in their wallet. It includes a list of people, numbers to call and what to do if their feelings become overwhelming.

The card is laminated and it’s carried around to use if it’s ever needed.

CHILDREN’S MERCY HOSPITAL

Children seem to be needing help at younger ages, that’s where Children’s Mercy Hospital is ready to help.

The hospital offers a number of developmental and behavioral health programs and services, including parent coaching programs.

A full list of programs and services can be found at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

JEWISH FAMILY SERVICES

Jewish Family Services is an organization with numerous programs built to help children and teenagers. It works with 32 different community organizations in both Kansas and Missouri.

JFS works with a number of metro school districts to offer counseling and other family support services. They are offered through your child’s school at reduced costs, or may even be free.

YOU BE YOU CAMPAIGN

The You Be You Campaign shares a message of acceptance as it works to connect mental health and other resources to the teenagers who can benefit from them

WAITLIST WEDNESDAY

Appointments are sometimes hard to get because of a shortage of mental health workers. If you aren’t getting the immediate help your family needs, the organization offers a program called “Waitlist Wednesday.”

Waitlist Wednesday is a weekly support group for people who are waiting to see counselors or mental health experts.

If you are interested in the group, contact Jewish Family services at 913-327-8250 or navigator@jfskc.org.

HOTLINES

It doesn’t matter where you live in the Kansas City metro, if you need help it’s just a phone call away.

  • Kansas Crisis Lines
  • Missouri Crisis Line
    • 1-888-279-8188
  • Mental Health America Warmline
    • 913-281-2251
  • National Suicide Prevention Line
    • 1-800-273-TALK
  • National Hopeline Network
    • 1-800-SUICIDE
    • Text line 741 741

While it may seen daunting, all of this work is paying off in the metro. Jewish Family Services said the number of calls for help that came into the Johnson County Crisis Line increased by 35%. While that may not seem like progress, JFS said it is. JFS said the higher call volume means people recognize they need help, they know where to find it, they’re asking for help and they are getting the help they need.

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