Sunday, May 15, 2016

We Treat The Body But Not The Mind

If you don't think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days. -Kris Carr, New York Times Best selling author

Last week, I was honored to speak at a community forum about suicide and mental health.  Our community has experienced a rash of suicides, including two students, and close to 2,000 people attended.  After the forum, I spoke with some of those that attended and told me their stories very similar to mine.  They had lost a child, or had one battling mental illness.  I wasn't able to talk with everyone, and handed out my card to others asking them to call or email me.

One of the emails I received was from John* asking me to call him to speak about his daughter. Because it was Mother's Day weekend, I had to put it off a few days when I did get a hold of him, he was most anxious to talk.  It seems young daughter Nancy* began to deal with the symptoms of depression and anxiety during the fall of her freshman year of high school.  By January, Nancy, a child that had just been moved up to the varsity swim team, was barely able to leave her room.
Her father was near tears as he told me this. It has to be hard, as a parent, to see your once vibrant child reduced to a shadow of their former self.

As we continued to talk, he made a comment that struck home.  He asked why a school will have three athletic trainers to fix an athlete's body to get them back on the field, but no one to fix their mind to get them back in the classroom.   He made a good point.  Many of the larger schools in Texas have athletic trainers on the staff.  They treat athletic, (as well as band, drill team, and cheer leading injuries), and are a blessing, especially at lower income schools where many student athletes don't have access to sports medicine.  Don't get me wrong, as a coach, I am grateful for the training staff at our school.  They do an incredible job, and treat all athletes, regardless of sport, equally, and because of them, our student athletes are able to compete at a high level.

But what about the students that are injured mentally?  What is being done for them?  I know schools have guidance counselors on campus, but how many are sufficiently trained to handle students with severe mental health issues, and just like any other profession from teaching, to chefs, to knife throwers, there are those that are good, and those, eh, not so much.

When I look at the faculty roster for a random high school, there are three people listed as Diagnostician/Psychological Assoc., but after further research, that means they hold the title Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) An LSSP will evaluate kids for Special Education (SPED) using testing materials much like a psychologist, but they are generally not a school psychologist, as that requires a Doctorate according to Texas state law. An LSSP is trained to evaluation children and adolescents’ behavioral, emotional, and social functioning in order to help them succeed academically. An LSSP can provide direct services such as behavioral interventions; therapy; consultation with teachers, parents and other professionals; and make recommendations for whether or not a child might qualify for special education services. In addition, the LSSP may only provide services in a school and not outside.  According to the job description I found on several district websites, the majority of LSSp's are generally in special education, and do not counsel most students. Once again, I am not trying to diminish the work of an LSSP.  Theirs is a nonstop job of meetings, consultations, evaluations, and the reams of paper work that the state and districts require.

I went to several district websites and accessed the student/parent handbook.  This used to go home every year, but is now available on line for easy access provided you have internet access.  Of the ones that mentioned suicide, they all had, word for word, the same statement:
Suicide Awareness: The district is committed to partnering with parents to support the healthy
mental, emotional, and behavioral development of its students. If you are concerned about your
child, please access or contact the school counselor for
more information related to suicide prevention services available in your area.  
It is though they have a one size fits all approach to the issue, if they even approach the topic.
Unfortunately, there were several multi-school 6A districts that made no mention of suicide in their handbook.

Take some time to look over the staff roster for your child's district.  You will see teachers listed as the Intervention Specialist, the Response to Intervention Support Teacher, the Student Success Teacher, Psychological Associates, Counselors, LSSP's, and Professional Athletic Trainers.  All are there for your kids.  All have their best interests at heart, but how many are there when your child has issues beyond grades, standardized tests, or sprained ankles?  Isn't it time school districts devoted time and money to mental, as well as physical health?  As a tax payer, you have a say in how things are done in your district.  Attend board meetings, rally other parents, talk to the board members you elected.  If they are going to spend money to treat an athlete's body, then they can spend the money to treat your child's mind