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Back-To-School Mental Health Tips for Parents & Students

Fourth-Grade-Classroom.jpg
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Age
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Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Age
Fourth graders work together to plan life for their “colony” during a class activity focused on colonial America.

There is a lot on the minds of caregivers and students as the 2021 school year approaches. Amid more than a year of learning during a pandemic with at-home and in-class hybrid teaching and social distancing, schools are on the lookout for signs of student distress.

According to the CDC, approximately 4.4 million children nationwide ages 3 to 17-years-old have been diagnosed with anxiety, and approximately 1.9 million children within that same age range have been diagnosed with depression.

As schools open their doors during a persisting pandemic, Lori Brooks with Lee County Schools Counseling and Mental Health Services says the district is focusing on prevention and education when intervening on behalf of student mental health.

“It’s education for parents, teachers, for our students, about what are healthy habits they can develop for emotional wellness, physical wellness and then also what do we do when we need to intervene," said Brooks. "If they talk to a teacher or their school counselor, we can connect them to the help that they need, from our school counselors, our social workers, our psychologists, even our licensed mental health professionals. We have a school mental health team at every school.”

Another water to navigate is bullying at school. Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order barring schools in Florida from imposing mask mandates. As school districts decide to enforce that or not, it can leave students open for possible scrutiny from their peers due to their personal choices. Erika Garcia, NAMI Collier County H.U.G.S. Program Bilingual System Navigator, suggests that caregivers sit down with their children prior to the first day of school.

"Although we cannot control the things people say to us, we can control the way in which we react to them," said Garcia. "Roleplay some scenarios and teach your children how they should react and teach them to help their fellow classmates when they see bullying occur. Encourage them to seek the help of a trusted adult."

The Health Under Guided Systems, or H.U.G.S., Program offers early identification of mental health struggles through standardized mental health screenings. Garcia says that the screenings are offered at different early education centers as well as through the early learning programs at Collier County Public Schools. HUGS also offers in-home parenting classes and virtual classes.

But what signs should a parent or peer look for to indicate that a student is struggling with their mental health? Brooks says any negative changes in behavior can indicate the time for a conversation about depression, anxiety and reaching out for some help.

Garcia adds that it is never too early to talk to your children about mental health.

"Knowing the signs of mental health will help you and your child manage what comes next," said Garcia. "Remember that you are not alone."

Caregivers can call their student’s school for more information on how to access any mental health services.

Click here to watch a video with advice from Lee Schools to help get students and parents back into the swing of things.

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