CESA 7 works to address rise in student mental health issues
By Annika Morschauser
NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – Poor mental health has been on the rise in students, and CESA 7 is fighting the increase by hosting programs that give adults that work with youth, the tools to help.
Two free programs are being held this summer.
From 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on July 25-26, the Youth Mental Health First Aid program will take place which helps adults who work with teens identify mental health distress, give the student support, and guide them to mental health services.
On Aug. 8, the “Suicide Prevention Training QPR: Question, Persuade and Refer” program will have two sessions — one noon -2 p.m. and the other from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
This program will educate participants in how to question, persuade and refer someone who is showing signs of having suicidal thoughts.
The program involves role-plays for immediate practice of the skills they’ll learn.
The CESA-7 Director of College, Career and Life Readiness Marcia Waldron-Kuhn works with mental health programming and support.
She explained how mental health is being recognized, what’s causing the increase and how it’s being prevented and treated.
There is a combination of many different factors that are causing this increase in poor mental health.
COVID-19 and social media are just a couple of factors as Waldron-Kuhn pointed out, “These students never get to shut off, so they’re constantly in contact with one another.”
This could be a cause, but there is no solid evidence to support that it directly impacts mental health.
The CDC provides data on the causes as the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) tracks the percentage of students across the United States that answer yes or no to any given prompt such as if they’ve been bullied.
This data, which is open to the public, is then used by schools to see where there needs to be a change to bring the percentages down as they’ve been on the rise for the last couple of years.
“The action step is getting people prepared and knowledgeable on how to have those courageous conversations with one another to reduce that stigma in asking for help and support and again getting that idea of we’re all in this together,” Waldron-Kuhn said.
One action taking place is encouraging teens to have positive protective factors.
A protective factor which would be an extracurricular activity or having a trusting relationship with at least one adult helps that student to be less likely to fall into poor coping techniques if their mental health declines.
It’s also helpful to recognize that “one person’s coping skills can be another person’s stress,” as Waldron-Kuhn described.
For example, being extremely busy and involved in school activities can be helpful for one student but can be extremely stressful for another student.
Teens don’t always recognize what coping skills are best for them, which is one topic that is covered by the different programs that are being offered.
“Hope Squad” and “Sources of Strength” are programs within many of the schools in the district that are there to support students, prevent suicide and reduce the stigma behind mental health.
Along with that, more schools are encouraging teachers and staff to attend training sessions such as the ones being offered this summer.
In addition to school programming, local and state legislators have recognized the need to support mental health and suicide prevention programs like these in schools, as they’ve allowed room in the budget to support them financially, as Waldron-Kuhn said that time and money are the major factors behind mental health programming.
For example, Kids Get Ahead funding by the state government is used by school districts to fund their mental health programming such as Hope Squad, Sources of Strength and other programs and services.
Waldron-Kuhn explained, “So that’s really the work that we’re trying to do, again, reducing the barriers for training, getting that training to be free and open to the community and really trying to get as many people out there to be able to advocate and support student mental health as well as adult mental health.”
She added that other programs are available, such as Trauma Sensitive Schools, which are aware of Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) that can affect children later in life if not addressed and treated.
She also mentioned restorative practices that build a community of support and reduce stigma surrounding mental health.
In addition to these, the “Behavior and Mental Health Summit” for educators is coming up in August and will be held at Sheboygan Falls High School.
As a reminder from Waldron-Kuhn, “You don’t know who’s struggling. You just need to be kind and supportive.”
CESA 7 is a Cooperative Educational Service Agency created by the state legislature to connect schools in the greater northeast peninsula area of the state, including Brown and Kewaunee counties.
For more information, visit https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TrIRmuUVzFVOR112jX4ZX1eTmnegKJukXr3pm8PXW44/edit or https://docs.google.com/document/d/1d7OlfYF_1hybVI0x8YM1Qj1pPTV3vDnHNBlHdYKklhY/edit.