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Checking in on Mental Health

September 29, 2020

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We have written a lot about mental health in the last 6 months since the world seems to have gotten turned upside down, but that’s just how important of a topic it is!


While most of this seems to have started with the COVID-19 pandemic back in March, the world was primed for a cathartic experience. Emotions have been high and tense for various reasons. All sorts of things have had people either anxious to have the voice heard, desperate for equality and civil liberties, and even just itching for a fight.


In America alone, the pandemic has only brought in to greater focus the growing division between the haves and the have-nots, the injustices faced by those who do not fit into particular racial or social norms,  the crippling partisanship in our current political structures, and the questionable reliability and scarcity of objective news.


Throw in the record-breaking number of forest fires and named storms, and it’s no wonder that mental health is at an all-time low.


We can at least be thankful that the killer hornets didn’t turn out to be what the B movies of the 80’s portrayed (*quickly knocks on wood).


School is back in session (which means something different in almost every community), and the toll of the current state of things is expressing itself in a myriad of different ways: crying, panic attacks, anger, fighting, lethargy, apathy, truancy, paranoia, hopelessness, depression (the list could go on).


Teachers may get angry about the smallest additional task that is given to them, unable to handle one more straw on the proverbial camel’s back.


A normally calm, amiable student may cuss someone out just for bumping into them or asking to see their hall pass.


The parent who volunteers for everything and is generally a cheerleader for everything the school does may go on an accusatory rant on social media against the school.


Or you might just happen upon an administrator broken down in their office, unsure if they can continue being the strong leader they know they need to be.


Keep in mind that these are all symptoms of greater unease. If one of these things or something similar flares up in front of you, try to be understanding. If you have the reserves in your tank to let the person release that frustration, try and give them the safe space to do so. If you find yourself on the edge of the breaking point when a situation like this arises, know yourself well enough to pass the baton to a trustworthy person and separate yourself from the situation if possible.

Coping Tools

Here is a short list of coping techniques that we have been sharing with students and teachers. We wanted to provide you with some simple things to offer to people you come across that have hit the wall (or maybe this is where you have found yourself). Odds are you won’t be able to fix the root of what is upsetting, but perhaps you can give them the tools they need to survive long enough to find the right solutions. 

Apps

“Calm” is a free app that provides peaceful music, breathing exercises, guided meditations, sleep stories, nature scenes, and even Masterclasses peace and wellness. With a menu like that, there is something truly calming there for everyone.


“Longwalks” is a simple journaling app that provides daily, reflective writing prompts. The daily prompts are generally just sentence stems, but they could inspire longer writing. If the prompt of the day doesn’t speak to you, you can opt for a different one. There is also a daily, inspirational quote. While you wouldn’t want to take what is intended to be a helpful and introspective tool and add the stressors of social media, you can add friends to your profile and share your journal entries or choose to keep them private.

Journaling

True, there is nothing new about this one, but it is something that many people have yet to give fair try. Perhaps you have thoughts that you are afraid to say out loud, unsure of how (or if) they will be accepted. Maybe you don’t have anyone you feel like you can trust to be truly vulnerable with at the moment. It could be that you are the sounding board for others, and you have to get some of it out without betraying other people’s trust. Or, maybe your brain is swirling with thoughts, worries, plans, what-ifs, and memories (both good and bad), and you can’t seem to get a moment’s rest from them


You could take the traditional approach and grab a notebook or a composition book and just start writing. Some people like to go to the store and look for the perfect journal that invites them to write in it (many have daily prompts or quotes - a good way to start if this is new to you). 


If the idea of pen and paper just completely turns you off, or if you are afraid of someone else laying eyes on your words, you could type your journal in your phone as a memo. Or better yet, there are journaling apps like “Penzu” that are password encrypted to ensure privacy.


If words aren’t your thing, a sketchbook can serve the same purpose. Those with an artistic flare may find it more natural to express themselves in pictures or illustrations.

Miscellaneous

If you or someone you are interacting with is dealing with the difficulties that come with caring for a loved one with mental illness, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is an excellent organization. With local chapters all over the country, they provide both support groups and resources.


Ask someone who is feeling overwhelmed what they do to express themselves. Dance? Sports? Art? Singing? Running? Gardening? Yoga? Crafting? Horseback riding? Encourage them to make time for these very important activities. If they don’t have a “thing”, help them explore some options to find something they enjoy.


If you come across someone experiencing financial hardship, you will probably either be tempted to sacrifice to help them or feel guilty that you do not have the means to do so. But, don’t be afraid to take a step back and consider your network. You probably either know of local resources or know people who do. Reach out and see if you can work together as a community to share the burdens of those in need. If anonymity is important, be the liaison. Sometimes just being a non judgemental ear is helpful. During these difficult economic times, many people have found themselves in positions they never dreamed they would be in, and it can be quite humiliating.


Find ways to spark joy. Maybe do some baking and surprise your team, office staff, or custodian and maintenance teams with treats. Send thoughtful cards to people whose work may get overlooked or who may have to carry more than their fair share these days. Share stories of hope and inspiration rather than getting caught up in the game of one-upping how bad things are. Offer to cover a class for someone so they have time to grade some papers, make some phone calls, or do some lesson plans.


And, keep an eye out for warning signs. Could bad behavior be a cry for help? Has someone’s mood suddenly changed? Are you noticing grades (or lesson plans) take a dramatic turn in a negative direction? Is someone who is normally social and outgoing starting to self-isolate? Has a student started skipping more than usual or a teacher been absent more than they are there? Take a moment to ask how he or she is doing. Make a phone call, send an email, put a little note on a candy bar or a soda and leave it for them. Just let them know that they are not alone.


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