Salem Statesman Journal
April 6, 2018
These days, many students cope with pressures in school — they are worried about bullies, succeeding on state tests, and more. For some students, these feelings are mild anxieties that may occur throughout the year; for others, these feelings could indicate a more serious mental health issue.
With Mental Health Awareness Month coming up in May, advocates nationwide are increasing efforts to educate the public about childhood mental health disorders.
Without early intervention, childhood mental health disorders can lead to serious issues at school and home. In fact, in a recent survey by the student-led Oregon Student Voice, teens across the state said that access to mental health resources was their most important concern.
Parents can help support students by watching for signs and seeking services for their children.
Let me tell you about a former Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) student, a survivor of severe childhood trauma. By middle school, she was in a dark place and dropping out of her traditional brick-and-mortar school.
She entered residential treatment and received lots of help from family, friends and professionals. This student was able to heal and continue with a quality education in a format that best met her needs. She even became student body vice president and spoke at her graduation.
Mental health covers many areas that may impact a person throughout a lifetime. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) describes mental disorders as changes in thinking, mood and/or behavior. This can include depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Have you ever heard someone say teens don’t have mental health problems, they’re just moody? Sometimes that may be the case, but there are children whose struggles go beyond moodiness, and those issues deserve consideration and support.
In Oregon, one in four 8th graders and one in three 11th graders reported their mental or emotional health was fair or poor in the state’s latest Healthy Teens Survey.
The survey found at least 17 percent of students had considered suicide, an alarming static considering suicide is the number two cause of death for Oregon children, next to car accidents (not counting natural causes).
The brain is complex, so there’s no parenting guidebook listing all the mental health red flags to consider. However, your child may need support if they exhibit some of these symptoms for more than a week:
• Sudden changes in behavior/mood
• Isolating / loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
• Feeling sad/hopeless
• Becoming overly anxious/worried
• Problems with anger/violence
• Being scared/frequent nightmares
• Frequent tantrums / intense irritability
• Recurring stomachaches/headaches with no physical cause
• Significant changes in sleeping/eating patterns
• Using alcohol/drugs
• Displaying very low / too much energy
If you think your student is experiencing mental health problems, talk to your child’s doctor, school health staff, school counselor, or a mental health professional.
If you think your child is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, call 911. The local police are trained to address mental health concerns and have the resources to respond appropriately.
Addressing mental health problems can often enhance academic achievement, and there are options at school if your child needs certain accommodations. A HHS study noted that when children facing serious mental health disorders accessed services, their school attendance and grades improved.
It’s often difficult for your child to ask for help when they’re hurting, so parents need to be good listeners. Reassure your child that dealing with fear, sadness and other emotions can be extremely difficult, and speaking to a doctor, counselor, or therapist can be very helpful.
Explain that having a mental health issue is common and they can get better. Most importantly, remind your child you are there for support every step of the way. You can also provide additional resources like the Oregon Youth Line 1-877-968-8491 or text: teen2teen, 839863.
The young lady I mentioned earlier is now studying the brain in college hoping to someday treat patients. She’s also giving back what she’s been given, volunteering to reduce the stigma around mental illness through Keep Oregon Well, and in May she’ll receive a Hero’s Award from the advocacy group.
For parents, every day is an important day to advocate for their child’s mental well-being and help them reach their full potential.
Jesse Rorvig is an Oregon Connections Academy High School counselor from Portland. More information about Oregon Connections Academy is available at www.OregonConnectionsAcademy.com or by calling (800) 382-6010.