Mental Health Round Table Forms Strategies to Support Youth Following COVID Isolation & Stresses
In the spring of 2022, SEARCH’s Bring Summer Back Committee (BSB), which began as a collaborative partnership for fighting the COVID pandemic in our community, turned its focus to the mental health effects COVID has had on our community, specifically on teens and adolescents. The topic was in the news, told in anecdotes from committee members, and experienced firsthand in families. In May, a Round Table of mental health professionals and others who work with Mitchell and Yancey County students was formed to address these concerns and strategize about how to support students, families, and teachers during the transition back to "normalcy" and in-person classrooms.
The Adolescent Mental Health Round Table was spearheaded by SEARCH's Karin Rolett and has met for four virtual discussions since May. Members of the group include counselors, principals, teachers, social workers, and a student representative. All of the participants have witnessed a marked shift in student thinking and behavior over the last few years. The most alarming reports involve an increase in high-risk behaviors, and that some students seem to have "shut down". Teachers say they feel overwhelmed by the uncharted territory of post-pandemic classrooms.
Each of the Round Table discussions have included reports on what they observe as well as what actions could be taken now to support adolescents and their families. Participants agree that programs like Mental Health First Aid are crucial for teachers and students. The Youth Wellness Ambassador Program, introduced by the group's student representative, is an example of peer-to-peer support that has proven successful in other settings like 4-H. Students are often more comfortable talking to each other than confiding in an adult. The goal is to prevent escalation of negative situations and crises.
During the summer, the Round Table group collaborated to create “Back to School Wellness Tips” and resource lists for students and families. These were transformed by Britt Kaufmann of SEARCH into flyers for Mitchell and Yancey Counties. If the reader knows of other resources to add to this list, send them via email to email@example.com.
A major problem addressed by the Adolescent Mental Health Round Table group is the lack of access to mental health services for students. In general, Mitchell and Yancey Counties do not have enough counselors or therapists to serve the youth of these communities, and the positions advertised in both counties are going unfilled. This problem exists statewide and nationally as well.
The latest meeting of the Round Table identified a need to re-vamp the schools' Health Curriculum which feels outdated and insufficient to meet the current needs of students. Several groups have conducted successful series on topics like safe dating and substance misuse. The logistics of incorporating more such programs related to health and wellness continue to be part of the discussion.
If you are interested in being part of SEARCH's Adolescent Mental Health Round Table, or have resources to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org