Seems like no matter what we’re doing or where we’re going, reminders abound that that there’s nothing normal about this so called “new normal.” It hits us every which way just gassing up, picking up groceries, or taking in the news, replete, as it is, with stories of mayhem, division, and death.
As psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of VeryWell Mind Amy Morin put it in her USA Today “Flurry of Sobering News May Feel as If Our Brains Are at Their Capacity:” “We’ve all reached the point of emotional exhaustion, and there is such a thing as crisis fatigue. Our brains and our bodies can only be in a heightened state of alert for so long, and it’s not natural for us to stay there.”
Unnatural, yes, but so unavoidable…
Seeking relief, many among us harken back to our childhoods, and companies are only happy to oblige. Take McDonald’s, for instance, now selling Happy Meals for adults, complete with either a Big Mac or chicken nuggets, along with fries, a drink, and one of four collectible figurines: Grimace, the Hamburglar, Birdie, or Cactus Buddy.
Manufacturers are all in on the “kidult” (12 and over) market, too, with the likes of flip phones and wired headphones that are flying off the shelves. Need something more? How about the 7,541-piece Star Wars Millennium Flacon Lego set or artist MADSAKI-designed neon He-Man action figures going for $850? There’s even a Bluetooth-enabled version of the Chatter Phone, its smiley face still in place.
Want to go the nutrition route for a remedy instead? UK researchers find that “those who eat fruit more often showed reduced symptoms of depression and greater positive psychological well-being.” Too bad the opposite happens when noshing on such favs as potato chips. As they say, an apple a day…
Meanwhile, our young people wrestle with mental health, too, as social issues, tech, and politics permeate every aspect of their lives, and bad behavior is evidenced everywhere from the powerful on down, bullying and name calling no longer just the domain of the young.
And even as social media wreaks havoc on our kids’ well-being, tech often takes center stage in our classrooms instead of our teachers. Smart Whiteboards and Chrome Books rule, while irresistible cell phones distract attention from learning.
Then there’s this from Common-Sense Media: 15% of kids ten and younger have seen porn, and 41% of our 13- to 17-year-olds have seen images of nudity and sexual acts while online at school.
Plus, as if more is better, many districts have doubled down by turning to such “tools” as StudySynch, that proclaims it “creates and publishes award-winning education curriculum for schools in English, language arts, ELL, social studies, and science” and boasts that it’s “an easy-to-use platform to deliver adaptable, interactive, equitable learning solutions.”
Tech has even replaced snow days in many districts with remote learning, as if more screen time beats shoveling, sledding, and rolling around in the white stuff.
Accordingly, and no wonder, a recent C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital national poll found that:
- 46% of parents have noticed a new or worsening mental health condition in their teens,” and
- There’s been a 75% increase in children showing up for emergency mental health evaluations.
In fact, the National Council for Mental Well-Being finds that 20% of teenagers will experience a mental health issue in their lifetimes, and the CDC finds that 25% of girls admit to seriously considering suicide, up 60% since 2011.
Couple all this with these 2022 facts:
- More than 5.4 million public school students(12%) attend districts with no psychologists, and
- Almost half a million students(1%) attend districts with no school counselors at all.
In a recent Norristown Times Herald opinion piece, educator Dr. Kimberly I. Minor wrote that, as an elementary school principal walking the halls, she’d see teachers greeting their students with high-fives, handshakes, and hugs, saying, “In losing those types of touch greetings, we have lost the tools to express through nonverbal means our mutual care and respect, while also losing tools that decrease stress.”
Trying to get back to those good old days and undo some of the damage, many schools are using Safer Communities Act of 2022 dollars. For instance:
- With its $6 million over five years, Tacoma Washington District plans to see that every school has a counselor and some social workers, while also partnering with local mental health providers to meet with students at school.
- North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools District will use its $14.8 million to expand mental health services at 61 schools and fund 16 new, full-time mental health clinicians.
- Chicago Public Schools plans to apply its $15 million to fund its own grow-your-own program for counselors, social workers, psychologists, and its retention program for existing providers.
Others are expanding physical education classes and incorporating meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga into the school day and after school, too.
Also popping up:
- Wellness centers, Zen dens, and calming corners so kids can take a break from school stress and/or get help before returning to class. These may include adult coloring books, weighted blankets, clay, miniature Zen gardens, even snacks and hot chocolate, all overseen by a trained wellness coordinator.
- Mental Health First Aid Programs teaching kids to recognize the signs of friends in trouble, such as failing grades and withdrawing from others, and when to consult an adult.
- School therapy dogs “to support in a community environment,” as they have a calming effect and provide a sense of safety that inspires kids to seek help and confide.
- No permission required mental health days for kids “to mentally rest and recharge.” According to an Ipsos poll, 26% of parents strongly agree with them, 44% somewhat agree, while 30% either disagree/strongly disagree.
With all that to digest, I leave you with this from A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh:
“Today was a Difficult Day,” said Pooh.
“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Piglet.
“No,” said Pooh after a bit. “No, I don’t think I do.”
“That’s okay,” said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.
“What are you doing?” asked Pooh.
“Nothing, really,” said Piglet. “Only, I know what Difficult Days are like. I quite often don’t feel like
talking about it on my Difficult Days either. But goodness,” Piglet continued, “Difficult Days
are so much easier when you know you’ve got someone there for you. And I’ll always be here for you, Pooh.”