Grossmont Union High School District hosted a webinar on Feb. 2 in which representatives from Mending Matters, a company contracted to provide mental health services in some capacity to schools throughout the district updated parents on their observations and available resources.
Facilitated by Grossmont Union High School Director of Student Support Services Mary Nishikawa, the 45-minute long presentation featured Mending Matters Executive Director Mariesther Hemmon as well as Mental Health Therapists Caitlin Zahlis and Diana Yidi.
“We’re seeing similar responses across the district,” Zahlis said, such as an inability to focus, altered states of motivation, emotional numbness and increased stress levels, frequent mood changes, difficulty with memory and reports of existential thoughts.
Additionally, she said, many students are exhibiting physical symptoms related to social-emotional challenges like severe changes in sleep patterns, a constant need to move and a changed appetite.
“We want to share this so you can remind your child these are a normal response to a pandemic,” Zahlis said.
According to Mental Health America, a non-profit dedicated to addressing the needs of mental illness, youth mental health is worsening across the nation; 9.7% of youth in the United States currently have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in 2020.
Additionally, youth who identify as more than one race experience severe major depression at an even higher rate of 12.4%.
Yidi also said parents might want to subtly introduce the topic of suicide, by asking indirect questions like “Have you ever wanted to go to sleep and not wake up?”, to assess the situation without directly asking their child if they are feeling suicidal.
Yidi provided a list of resources parents can call if they need help with potentially suicidal teens such as San Diego Access and Crisis Line; Up2SD; BlackLine; The Trevor Project; and California Youth Crisis Text Line.
All the resource lines are confidential, she said, and each one has a niche that might be more helpful with individual situations but are not specific to one cohort and will help anyone who contacts them.
“As we’re all living through a global pandemic we all have reason to contact a crisis line. You can contact any of these that feel most comfortable,” Yidi said.
SD Access and Crisis line can be accessed in 150 different languages and an interpreter can be connected within seconds of a call.
BlackLine specializes in supporting Black, Indigenous and students of color.
The Trevor Project is available to support young people who might belong to or identify with the LGBTQ community.
“We understand that thinking about a crisis or suicide with your student can be really scary to think about but talking about suicide with young people is the best way to prevent suicide,” Yidi said.
Zahlis said students who participated in a Mending Matters survey identified their top three barriers for sharing how they feel as: guilt for asking for support; struggles with feeling vulnerable; fear the person they confide in will dismiss their concerns.
She also said over 50% of students who responded to a school-wide survey said they also wish their parents knew ‘I care about them and I want them to take more time for themselves because I know things have been hard on them, too’.
Yidi said students reported wanting phone applications for basic guidance on mindfulness, emotion tracking and simple strategies to guard against feeling overwhelmed such as meditation and journaling. Some applications she suggested for students and parents alike were Calm, Youper, Downdog, Headspace and Stop-Breathe-Think.
For more extensive help, she said, parents can obtain psychological or psychiatric help for students through their own doctor and health insurance. However, Yidi also advised parents to seek help from school counselors who might have different resources if quickly obtaining medical help proves to be a challenge.
“Typically, if a student is put on a one or two month waitlist, we can provide support,” Zahlis said.
Hemmen also issued a reminder that parents take care of themselves as well.
“We’re aware of how hard it is to take care of a child right now and we want to remind you to take care of yourself. To all the parents and caregivers, we want to remind you that self care is child care,” Hemmen said.
Above all else, the trio advised recognizing every family is facing emotional challenges with a pandemic that has kept students from familiar routines for almost a year and advised parents and students to reach out for help whenever necessary.