Especially students from LGBTQ+ and marginalized communities
A new survey shows one-third of students cite mental health concerns for dropping out of college, or never going.
High school juniors and seniors frequently find themselves pondering tough decisions about the road ahead. Will they go to college? If not, what comes next?
That journey can significantly impact students’ mental well-being, leading many to choose to delay enrollment or opt out of college entirely.
A recent study by EAB, an educational company once known as the Education Advisory Board, revealed a concerning statistic: nearly one-third of the nearly 6,500 students studied opted out of college due to mental health concerns, with mental well-being concerns being most pronounced among underrepresented groups. Specifically, the issue is particularly notable among 54% of trans students, 53% of nonbinary students, 33% of Black students, 30% of Native American students, and 30% of female students.
Eric Layland, a researcher and assistant professor in the department of human development and family sciences at the University of Delaware, concurs with the research findings, noting deeper stressors within the LGBTQ+ student community.
He said LGBTQ+ students “also face additional stressors based on their LGBTQ minority identities that come from the systemic and day-to-day mistreatment and devaluation of LGBTQ students. … For trans and non-binary students in particular, that’s living in a political climate that is often devaluing their identities and threatening to block their basic human rights.”
While most students who apply for college worry about independent living and forming new connections, some also grapple with the added challenges of being transgender, gay, or Black.
“You layer on top of that additional stressors of having to navigate whether they’ll be accepted for their identities, how they will access and reach firming and positive mental and physical health care and looking for workplace and living environments that will validate and be fair to their identities,” he added.
During the survey, students indicated that stress and anxiety overshadow their college search and planning. Layland even mentioned that suicide attempts are rates of anxiety and depression are higher among LGBTQ adolescenets.
Suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death in Delaware for individuals aged 10-24.
According to America’s Health Ranking, Delaware high school students who identify as queer are more likely to consider attempting suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
‘Cultural competence and cultural humility’
Universities need to proactively consider how they will care for trans or non-binary students, Layland said.
“Cultural competence for providing care to trans and non-binary students is extremely important at universities and that takes continued training and reflection with staff particularly advising in Mental Health Care staff,” Layland said. “So cultural competence, or another idea we might talk about, cultural humility, is really important for working with groups who may have experiences that providers and admin and staff don’t have themselves.”
He says cultural humility centers on an individual’s willingness to learn and engage with people from marginalized groups or communities they may not be part of. This encompasses the adeptness to interact sensitively with individuals, including queer students or those from diverse racial backgrounds.
Another expert from the University of Delaware, Roderick L. Carey, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, emphasizes the crucial role of cultural competence for marginalized groups, particularly in matters of race.
“Race is a very important, life-shaping variable, not necessarily just the color of your skin, but just the ways that the color of your skin offers you opportunities, but also challenges
in maneuvering up and through the K-12 system to even get to college,” Carey said. “We see even preschool age boys Black boys getting suspended and expelled from school.”
Following a suspension, students may be labeled a “problem.” Carey said that experience based on the color of one’s skin can become a traumatic experience for the student, significantly impacting their cognitive development from kindergarten through high school.
“It’s like those types of things, when kids experience those types of traumas in their school, they grow to start to wonder whether or not school in other formations of school like higher education is for them,” he said.
To better support underrepresented groups, experts suggest that universities gather sexual orientation and gender identity data during admissions to get a better sense of enrollment patterns. They say schools should also allocate more resources to help educators enhance their cultural competency.
“You have these two genres – the zero-tolerance policies and making each school look like a little prison on one side. Ironically, you have – at the same time – the opposite vision of making school’s a more loving and caring and supportive place,” said Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social work and education at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He noted that schools are increasingly leaning on both methods simultaneously to address school safety – a route he said might not work.
“Are both of these views compatible? Can (students) feel like they belong … if their school is doing both? We don’t know for sure,” Astor said. “These are really, in some ways, scary times in our country, because it’s not a simple list that parents should think about. They have to balance all these issues.”
Experts, educators and advocates offered USA TODAY some of the questions parents should consider when assessing the safety of their children’s schools.
What is social-emotional learning?
School climate, which refers to students’ feelings of acceptance, appreciation and value in their school, is the most important factor for maintaining safety, said Aaron Kupchick, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware.
To maintain a positive school climate, experts stress the importance of teaching social emotional learning (SEL) – which prioritizes the development of social and emotional skills in students, including self-awareness, empathy and resilience. Over the past few years, SEL has been linked to critical race theory, and conservatives have said the practice as a form of “woke indoctrination.”
SEL at school is crucial for student safety and success, said Heather Reynolds, a professor of teacher education at State University New York, Empire State University.
“It impacts not only safety, but academics. It improves mental health and students feel safer. They’re more engaged, more likely to come to school and have a positive perception of school.”
Why Delaware believes schools, parents are key to preventing more overdoses among kids
Slipping grades. Missed classes. Inexplicable vomiting and nausea. A sudden stoppage in brushing teeth.
All of these are potential signs of addiction among young people — signs that Delaware state officials urged parents to be on the lookout for as fatal youth overdoses continue to rise.
While recent survey results show lower self-reported drug use rates among high school students in Delaware, experts said a decreased concern about using prescription drugs without a prescription shows the need for greater intervention and education, particularly in schools.
“Students spend an average of 1,000 hours each year in school, so we know that schools need to be an active partner in helping our kids and their families navigate the changing landscape of substance abuse,” said Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Holodick at a community briefing Friday.
The new data comes from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is taken every other year by a random representative sample of students enrolled in district, charter and “alternative” schools in Delaware, as well as by many students nationwide. The anonymous survey asks about everything from seatbelt usage to physical activity and is analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the Delaware students surveyed, 6% said they’d taken prescription pain medicine without a doctor’s prescription or differently than how a doctor told them to use it in the past month, and only 58% think their friends think using prescription drugs without a prescription is very wrong.
“Knowing about risks is crucial to supporting school community programs, communication campaigns and other prevention efforts,” Brittingham said.
Fentanyl remains huge problem in Delaware
One of the main risks — and one of the primary causes of overdoses among all age groups — is the presence of fentanyl in drugs, often unbeknownst to the user. The highly potent synthetic drug has become increasingly common in counterfeit prescription pills, which the Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows are more commonly used than opioids like heroin by young people.
Like adults, fatal overdose deaths among youth have increased dramatically in recent years, with most involving opioids like fentanyl.
Median monthly overdose deaths rose by 109% between 2019 and 2021 for youth between the ages of 10 and 19, according to the CDC, and youth deaths involving fentanyl rose by 182% during that same time period.
Division of Public Health Chief Physician Dr. Michael Coletta explained that many younger people who unintentionally overdose used what they believed to be prescription pills like Xanax or Oxycontin, not realizing that the pills are laced with fentanyl.
Colette said the state has been “meeting kids where they’re at” through their social media campaign, which started in late 2022 with the goal of educating young people about the possible presence of fentanyl in pills they may buy online — sometimes on that same social media platform.
A recent survey by the RCMP found that 31% of Canadian youth say they have been cyberbullied before. That’s an increase of 17%, which can be blamed on the pandemic, a time in which kids’ screen time soared.
With kids back to school, cyberbullying will become a hot topic once again.
You can’t make a mean person less awful so how can parents, teachers and other concerned adults keep their children safe?
We spoke with experts Dr. Howard Pratt, a psychiatrist and behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida Inc., and Dr. Sara Goldstein, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Delaware, who specializes in bullying during childhood and adolescence.
“Because so much of what we do is online, there’s always that space available for someone to message someone negatively online or in a public space and bully another person,” Dr. Pratt tells the Toronto Sun.
“It’s really not a matter of staying safe but rather how to say safer,” he explains. “So, if there is a platform or space online that you learn is a place where bullying is taking place and affecting your child, then much in the same way you do when you learn there is a geographic location where crimes take place, you know you don’t want your kid there and you don’t let them go there.”
That’s easier said than done since parents and teachers can’t protect kids at all times. But adults can watch out for signs. Like bullying, the signs of cyberbullying are similar.
“Often there is a sense of embarrassment by the victim and the kid will try to hide that the bullying is going on,” Dr. Pratt says. “You may notice signs of withdrawal, symptoms of depression and anxiety despite the source coming from someone who is not physically present in your child’s life.”
Depending on the situation — and every situation is different — there are plans that can be implemented for an effective intervention.
“If the bullying is happening on a particular platform, you have to consider risk versus reward when it comes to eliminating it,” suggests Pratt, but warns that parents have to be very sensitive when making these decisions.
“When kids are bullied, whether the bully is someone they know or is a complete stranger, it calls into question so many things for that child,” he explains.
“The kid may ask themself, ‘Is this the way the world is?’ ‘Is this normal?’ ‘What’s wrong with me that this is happening?’
“So, you want to minimize exposure to bullying whether it’s coming from someone they actually know, or whether it’s coming from a complete stranger.”
As far as protecting kids as best as possible, Dr. Goldstein suggests setting clear guidelines and parameters for online behaviour, limiting time online access to devices, and maintaining positive, open relationships with them.
“When kids feel that they can open up to the important adults in their lives, they are more likely to share with them when something challenging is happening,” she says.
“You can never really be 100 per cent safe from cyberbullying,” admits Dr. Pratt. “Bad people are out there who will say and do bad things and we don’t have control of them.”
He suggests getting spyware to find out what your children are up to online.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he says. “You want to know who is communicating with your kids, what they are saying, and most critically, discern the intent behind that messaging, which a child may not be able to fully grasp.”
As parents or guardians, we tend to react quickly when our children’s physical health is in question. If children show physical symptoms, get injured, or express they don’t feel right, we immediately ask questions and seek medical guidance and care. Parents and guardians are also pros at prevention — making sure children get vaccines and wellness exams and keeping an eye out for anything unusual that may indicate they are sick or hurt. That same level of attention and action for prevention and treatment is critical to supporting children’s mental health.
Many children will experience a mental health and/or substance use problem before age 18. In a survey of 80,000 youth around the world, 1 in 4 reported depressive symptoms and 1 in 5 experienced anxiety symptoms. Those rates are double what they were before the pandemic and we also know that more children have experienced trauma in response to COVID-19. The good news is that there are things that caregivers can do to help promote children’s mental wellbeing. Children thrive in the presence of thriving adults who support them in co-regulation and processing their emotions. When a child has an emotionally healthy, caring adult in their life, it can help buffer against stress and help them to navigate experiences with resilience.
Anyone can be that adult for a child and make a real difference in their life. How? One of the easiest ways is for caregivers to talk with the children in their care — naturally, regularly, and intentionally as a part of daily life. Ask how they are feeling in general and about specific situations, like an upcoming social gathering or recent world event. These talks can take place in the car, standing in line, or at the dinner table. Be an active listener and show interest in all aspects of their life and the things that matter to them. And don’t hesitate to talk with them if you are concerned about their mental health and ask whether they are thinking about or planning suicide. If you are concerned about a child in crisis, you should call the 24/7 Child Crisis Line, also known as Mobile Resource Stabilization Service, at 1-800-969-HELP (4357).
In addition to a caring adult, research shows that prevention and treatment programs do work and there are resources available to help children and their families through the Delaware Children’s Department Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services and the Department of Education and local schools.
The Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services provides free summer prevention programs for children and teens that promote resilience, develop positive relationships with peers and adults and build life skills. Families and community members can contact the division’s Prevention Helpline to learn about these services by calling (302) 633-2680, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or by email at PBHS_Prevention_Inquiries@delaware.gov. You can click here to see the current catalogue of programs. You can also visit DPBHS’ website to learn more about covered treatment services.
Delaware schools support children through wellness promotion, monitoring for early warning signs, and screening for risks. Students may access group and individualized supports for building social and emotional skills. The state’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Wellbeing Plan provides infrastructure for this response system, integrating the innovations from Project DelAWARE — designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental health access — and Project THRIVE — which contracts directly with mental health provider organizations to offer trauma-specific interventions for ALL uninsured and under-insured students, regardless of whether they attend public or private schools demonstration project funded by the US Department of Education. Both of these programs have increased mental health equity for children and youth across our state. Students or parents and caregivers on their behalf can learn more by calling 211 or texting their zip code to 898-211.
—Delaware Online Mark Holodick and Josette Manning – Special to the USA TODAY Network
Mark Holodick is Secretary of Education. Josette Manning is Secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families.
The change was gradual. At first, Riana Alexander was always tired. Then she began missing classes. She had been an honors student at her Arizona high school, just outside Phoenix. But last winter, after the isolation of remote learning, then the overload of a full-on return to school, her grades were slipping. She wasn’t eating a lot. She avoided friends.
Her worried mother searched for mental health treatment. Finally, in the spring, a three-day-a-week intensive program for depression helped the teenager steady herself and “want to get better,” Alexander said. Then, as she was finding her way, a girl at her school took her own life. Then a teen elsewhere in the district did the same. Then another.
“It just broke my heart that there were three different people who were going through what I was, and they never got the chance to heal,” said Alexander, 17, now a high school senior.
After that devastating stretch in May, families and classmates in the Chandler Unified School District mourned the three 15-year-olds. They would enjoy no more summer vacations, no birthdays or graduations. The losses ignited a debate about what schools should be doing to support students in despair.
Nationally, adolescent depression and anxiety — already at crisis levels before the pandemic — have surged amid the isolation, disruption and hardship of covid-19. Even as federal coronavirus relief money has helped schools step up their efforts to aid students, they also have come up short. It’s unclear how much money is going to mental health, how long such efforts will last or if they truly reach those who struggle most.
“The need is real, the need is dire,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, who recalled hearing just that day from the district’s mental health partners that calls about suicidal thoughts had quadrupled. “We’re living through historically unprecedented times,” he said.
More than 75 percent of schools surveyed in spring said their teachers and staff have voiced concerns about student depression, anxiety and trauma, according to federal data. Nearly as many schools cited a jump in the number of students seeking mental health services.
But mental health is not the only pandemic priority. Schools are spending vast sums of their coronavirus relief money on ventilation upgrades, expanded summer learning, after-school programs, tutors and academic specialists.
The federal spending plans of 5,000 school districts nationally show that more than one-third intend to bring new mental health professionals into schools, and about 30 percent plan to fund social-emotional learning efforts, according to an analysis by FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
“This is an incredible increase in the amount of money being spent and the number of districts pursuing it,” Phyllis Jordan, associate director of FutureEd said. But it is still, advocates say, not nearly enough.
“We simply don’t have enough people in our profession to meet the need.”
— Kelsey Theis, president of the Texas Association of School Psychologists
In many areas, even when money is in hand, hiring is not easy. As this school year opened, nearly 20 percent of schools reported vacancies in mental health positions, according to federal data. Schools often said they employed too few staff to manage the caseload but also complained about difficulties finding licensed providers, the data showed.
“We simply don’t have enough people in our profession to meet the need,” said Kelsey Theis, president of the Texas Association of School Psychologists. When families seek private therapists, “sometimes there’s a wait list of months and months before they get help,” she said.
In Maine, waiting lists grew so long last year that school counselor Tara Kierstead began looking out of state for therapists who had openings — a solution that was not practical for many families.
“It was the hardest I’ve ever had to work to get resources to people,” Kierstead said. “I know some kids who were never seen.”
Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called out the “devastating” effects of the pandemic on youth mental health in a public advisory last December. Earlier that year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association together declared “a national state of emergency” in children’s mental health. They pointed out that young people of color were especially affected and linked the struggle for racial justice to the worsening crisis.
Hospital emergency room visits spiked for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From February to March 2021, the number jumped by 51 percent compared with the same period during 2019. For boys, the increase was 4 percent. Early research from MIT suggested the suicide rate for people aged 10 to 19 increased in 2020, compared with before the pandemic. More recently, CDC provisional data for 2021 showed an increase in the national rate from 2020 to 2021, especially for people ages 15 to 24.
In other research, the CDC found nearly 45 percent of high school students were so persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 they were unable to engage in regular activities. Almost 1 in 5 seriously considered suicide, and 9 percent of the teenagers surveyed by the CDC tried to take their lives during the previous 12 months. A substantially larger percentage of gay, lesbian, bisexual, other and questioning students reported a suicide attempt.
Family upheaval, meanwhile, was widespread, particularly in the early pandemic: Nearly 30 percent of students said an adult in their home had lost a job, and 24 percent said they went hungry for a lack of food.
There are no directly comparable pre-pandemic studies, but Kathleen Ethier, the CDC’s director of the division of adolescent and school health, said student well-being is significantly better for teens who report feeling connected to their schools — a problem for a population that, nationwide, was kept out of them for so long.
“There is 20 years of research showing that it not only has an impact on how young people do while they’re adolescents, but it has 20-year impacts on all kinds of measures of health,” including emotional well-being, suicidality and substance use, she said.
It also left many children grieving. More than 230,000 U.S. students under 18 are believed to be mourning the ultimate loss: the death of a parent or primary caregiver in a pandemic-related loss, according to research by the CDC, Imperial College London, Harvard University, Oxford University and the University of Cape Town. In the United States, children of color were hit the hardest, another study found. It estimated that the loss for Black and Hispanic children was nearly twice the rate for White children.
Too much need, too little help
In Maryland, Julia Horton, 16, recalls that, as her struggles worsened last year, she fell asleep in class a lot and did not turn in work; her grades dropped. Looking back, she said, “it is very obvious it was a cry for help.” Some teachers were compassionate, but others less so. “A lot of teachers talk about understanding mental illness, but they don’t act upon it,” she said.
Her school in suburban Montgomery County had two mental health professionals within its wellness center, county officials said, but Horton — like many students — had no idea. She talked to a counselor she liked about getting more time for assignments but it did not help. Her mother ultimately found her an excellent therapist to help Horton with her depression and anxiety, but she wonders about other teens who may not be as fortunate.
Montgomery County school officials said they inform students about mental health services through community messages, their website, student forums and advisory period lessons — though school board member Lynne Harris said messaging should be more robust and focused on platforms students use most.
In Philadelphia, Mikayla Jones, then 15, took care of her father in spring 2020 when he caught covid-19 and she had little contact with teachers and friends during remote learning. She wanted to talk to a therapist, but her mother couldn’t find one with an opening and she’d never heard of any mental health specialist at school. “I feel like this should not be something that’s possible,” she said. Now a 17-year-old senior, Jones is starting a club to advocate for mental health support across Philadelphia’s schools. “All youth deserve someone to be there for them.”
Philadelphia officials said counselors were meeting with students virtually or in person during the pandemic to assess their needs and help decide next steps. Still, the high school senior never found a therapist. The first meeting of her mental health support club will be later this month.
Told about the school system’s comment, the teenager said: “If the school does not communicate the availability of counselors, and their role as counselor has been repeatedly labeled as ‘college counselor,’ then how will we know that they are there as a mental health resource?”
National research from 2019 showed that students of color have not received equal access to school counselors. At that time, 38 states were shortchanging students of color, students from low-income families or both, according to the study done by the Education Trust.
As the pandemic has persisted, students have spoken out — in Nebraska, Arizona, Connecticut and Washington.
In Seattle, students who formed the Seattle Student Union to promote racial justice decided this year to push for mental health support in schools. Chetan Soni, a 17-year-old who co-founded the union, said there are too few mental health professionals to meet rising student needs. The district told him it doesn’t have the money, he said.
Seattle teachers, who went on strike in September, included a call for more mental health support for students as one of their bargaining points. The strike settlement included part-time social workers at most schools — a sign of progress, Soni said, but not enough to help all. “Students are suffering from the pandemic and so many other things too,” he said.
His school, Lincoln High, is fortunate in having a school-based health clinic, run by Neighborcare Health. But just one therapist works there, said Rachel Gordon, the company’s school-based mental health clinical manager. Nearly all therapists based at Seattle’s schools have full caseloads and wait lists, Gordon said. Many run group therapy sessions as a way to serve more students. “We’ve seen increases in anxiety, disordered eating, suicidal ideation, OCD and many other mental health challenges,” she said.
In rural Montana, the squeeze was different: Altacare, a for-profit provider, decided to halt services in the state this year amid recruitment difficulties and funding issues. Districts scrambled to cover for the loss, but many could not, and state officials were limited in what they could do. “Unfortunately, they were serving a lot of the very small rural schools that were already struggling,” said Mary Windecker, executive director of the nonprofit Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana.
The shortages meant that Montana kids who needed residential care, for the most serious mental illnesses, were mostly being sent to other states, she said. “Not because we don’t have beds for those children but because we don’t have people to staff those kids,” she said. “Imagine a six-year-old with a serious emotional disturbance being sent as far away as Georgia. That’s happening.”
National test scores also plummeted to levels not seen since 1999, according to recent data — setting off a wave of alarm among educators, many of whom consider the mental health crisis a contributing factor.
September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month
Join the conversation and help spread awareness of suicide prevention!
In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, the Delaware Children’s Department is raising awareness of suicide warning signs and helpful resources, especially during this unprecedented global pandemic.
“COVID-19 has magnified the many stressors families grapple with daily, from financial stress to relationship stress, and so much more. We know that mental health and wellness have been impacted over the last six months and therefore we must be proactive and encourage children and families to reach out if they are struggling,” said Josette Manning, Secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, also known as the Delaware Children’s Department. “No one has to go through this alone. Reach out to the Child Priority Response Line at 1-800-969-HELP or text DE to 741-741. Help – and hope – is only a call or text away.”
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death nationwide, and second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24. Every World Suicide Prevention Day, observed on September 10, is an opportunity build community and share support. To start, you can use the acronym FACTS (feelings, action, changes, threats, situations) to learn the warning signs for suicidal behavior. You can find more information online at this link, but here are a few examples:
Feelings: Helplessness; worthlessness; fear of hurting oneself or others
Action: Drug or alcohol abuse; talking or writing about death/destruction; recklessness
Changes: (examples) Changes in personality, behavior; loss of interest in friends and hobbies once enjoyed
Threats: Like “I won’t be around much longer”; plans like giving away favorite things; suicide attempts like overdosing, wrist cutting
Situations: Getting into trouble at school, at home, with the law; recent loss through death, divorce; the break-up of a relationship; losing an opportunity, dream
“To our caregivers and teens throughout Delaware – please know that you don’t have to wait to reach out for help. If you are struggling, help is available 24/7,” said Jill Rogers, executive director of Delaware Guidance Services, the provider that partners with DSCYF to manage the Child Priority Response Line. “If you recognize any signs of suicidal behavior, please reach out. Our crisis clinicians are training to help families work through crisis situations and direct them to needed resources. Together, we can help Delaware families get through this difficult period.”
In the last few years, Delaware has implemented several youth prevention initiatives as a result of the Project SAFETY grant, a federally-funded suicide prevention program. The grant program concluded in June, but Delaware was able to sustain the following services through community partnerships. Here are some of the accomplishments and outcomes:
Coordinating more than 27,000 online suicide prevention trainings for school personnel since 2017
Initiating about 8,000 mental health screenings of youth and screening initiatives at 44 organizations such as schools, mobile crisis units and the children’s hospital
Bolstering crisis services in Kent and Sussex County
Providing better coordination of services for youth from inpatient to outpatient care
Implementing a Crisis Text Line service for Delaware youth; From June 2016 to June 2020, the text line logged 1,744 text conversations and nine active rescues have taken place as a result of text line conversations
Creating a mental health-focused website – www.mentalhealthde.com – which is now managed by Mental Health Association in Delaware
“We know that Delawareans are in pain; our youth in particular have had to face so many changes to their day-to-day routines and activities. It’s important to check in, ask questions about mental health and just be there for one another. Death by suicide is the most preventable form of death,” said Yolanda Jenkins, Manager of Provider Services for the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services and one of the leads on the Project SAFETY grant.
“I’m grateful for the work of Project SAFETY to help lay the groundwork for these important prevention services. Due to the grant, the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services continues to offer the Crisis Text Line and partner with the Mental Health Association in Delaware on suicide prevention trainings, among other efforts. I look forward to these continued provider and partner collaborations for Delaware’s children, youth and families.”
If a child or youth is in crisis or contemplating suicide, please seek immediate help. We are in this together, and you are not alone.
“Now, more than ever, it is important that we normalize talking about mental health and asking the tough questions. When it comes to talking about suicide and being concerned about someone’s actions and/or behaviors, it is important that we intervene and get the person the help he or she needs. Never push to tomorrow a conversation you can have today. We must continue to come together as a community and create a safer state,” said Jennifer Smolowitz, Project Director for Suicide Prevention at the Mental Health Association in Delaware.
May 2021 is the third annual Trauma Awareness Month in Delaware. This year includes a series of webinars, the Compassionate Champion Awards, a State Agency Summit and more events and opportunities to recognize the work taking place across the state. This is a time to celebrate the exceptional trauma efforts accomplished to date, share best practices and resources for trauma-informed care, and learn how trauma-informed practices can enhance organizations, for both staff and service recipients. 𝑇𝑟𝑎𝑢𝑚𝑎 𝐴𝑤𝑎𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑠 𝑀𝑜𝑛𝑡ℎ 𝑖𝑠 𝑐𝑜-𝑠𝑝𝑜𝑛𝑠𝑜𝑟𝑒𝑑 𝑏𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐹𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑦 𝑆𝑒𝑟𝑣𝑖𝑐𝑒𝑠 𝐶𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑛𝑒𝑡 𝐶𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑐𝑖𝑙 (𝐹𝑆𝐶𝐶) 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑇𝑟𝑎𝑢𝑚𝑎 𝑀𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝐷𝑒𝑙𝑎𝑤𝑎𝑟𝑒 (𝑇𝑀𝐷).
𝗨𝗽𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗘𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀 / 𝗥𝗲𝗴𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻:
𝗦𝘁𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝘂𝗺𝗮-𝗜𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗺𝗲𝗱 𝗦𝘁𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗪𝗲𝗯𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗿
May 5, 2021 · 12:00pm – 1:00pm · Via Zoom Register HERE
𝗣𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗶𝘁𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗳𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗖𝗔𝗥𝗘𝗴𝗶𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀: 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗶𝗿 𝗣𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻, 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗶𝗿 𝗣𝗮𝗶𝗻 𝗪𝗲𝗯𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗿
May 12 · 2:00pm – 3:00pm Register HERE Session A
The mental health crisis is defined by the family, noted Malia Boone, youth crisis services program manager for Mobile Response and Stabilization Services — especially when dealing with the emotional stress placed upon them now.
“I’m not sure that families know when it’s OK to call crisis,” she said in a livestream hosted by NAMI Delaware Wednesday. “There might have been a time where they called crisis and they were told their child didn’t meet the criteria, or something like that, for crisis intervention. But it’s so important for families to know that the way we view crisis service at this point is that the crisis is defined by the family.”
MRSS responds to the needs of children ages 17 and younger and their families when children are struggling emotionally or behaviorally and it can be difficult to de-escalate the situation.
The services will determine if there’s need for emergency services, assess risk and plan for safety, defuse crisis situations and connect families to resources. The service can help develop plans for children to stay in their homes and school, and also refer children to treatment based on risk and needs. MRSS services are the same statewide and they responds within the hour, though Ms. Boone said that Sussex County is larger, and it may take longer for response.
In May, in response to COVID-19, the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health launched a phone line dedicated to helping Delawareans cope with stress and and other needs by connecting them with resources.
Many of the calls MRSS is receiving now are a more serious situation, Ms. Boone said in a phone interview.
“People are calling at the point there’s nothing else they can do but figure out some way to call, and sometimes that connection is actually occurring from the police department or from the emergency room that they’ve gone to because of how serious the situation got,” she said.
Typically, MRSS receives many of its referrals from schools, initiated by guidance counselors or principals to establish a need, said Ms. Boone. In the summer, they always see requests lessen. But over the last couple of months, there was a significant decline when compared to the amount of calls last year.
“We’ve received maybe three calls from schools and it’s been teachers,” she said, noting that teachers aren’t typically the ones making referrals.
“Those people who typically have contact with students really aren’t having a lot of contact with students during the pandemic,” she said. “Their teachers are having some contact but usually are only identifying students who need support through things that they wrote to them, like assignments or maybe they wrote a note to their teacher and said they’re having a hard time, but they’re not seeing it right in front of them like they normally would.”
It’s important to get ahead of the potential distress young people are feeling for a variety of reasons, said Annie Slease, director of advocacy and education at NAMI.
“Our emotional, mental health is really critical and young people often don’t have the words to explain or to tease out what’s happening, and so we want to make sure that the adults in their lives have the information and the support they need to help young people,” Ms. Slease said.
She noted that she comes from a place of lived experience where she didn’t know a service like this existed. If she had, though, she might not have called, she said.
“My own family, we didn’t know about this service but I can tell you, knowing what I knew then, I would have been afraid to call too soon. I would have thought they would dismiss me, I would have thought ‘It’s just my problem, I can handle this, they’re going to laugh at me,’” she said.
While NAMI was active in programming before the pandemic started to greatly alter life in mid-March, it had to quickly adapt to fit the needs the new landscape created, she said.
“We just really think it’s so important to reach families who might be struggling and maybe they’ve never had any connection to mental health services before because maybe there’s never been an issue before but we are in a pandemic now and that is just game changing for everyone,” Ms. Slease said.
The pandemic and its economic impact is one factor that could contribute to stress. But civil unrest in response to racial injustice is another factor that can contribute to deterioration of mental health.
Ms. Boone said that she hopes people will talk about how what’s going on around them is distressing.
“I’m not sure that, especially youth, feel comfortable saying, ‘This is something that bothers me, this is something that causes me anxiety, that causes me depression,’” she said. “My hope is that people will start to see it as something they can reach out for support about — ‘I struggle with this anxiety about if I go out into public, what’s going to happen? Am I going to die?’”
She added that there has been an increase in the adult system seeking support.
“If adults are needing more support there’s a good chance that youth also need additional support, and sometimes parents do start to question whether or not this is just typical teenage behavior or something to be concerned about. And if they’re questioning it, it doesn’t hurt to reach out and just talk it through with them on the crisis service,” she said.
If someone under the age of 18 is experiencing a mental health crisis, Youth Crisis can be reached at 1-800-969-HELP (4357). MRSS is available day and night, including weekends and holidays.
Helping small friends with sorrow in their eyes and fear in their hearts can be like walking up a mountain…long and hard, but worth the effort.
Being a therapy dog and one part of the treatment team makes this journey a little easier though. My human and co-team member, Elizabeth, worked really long and really hard to learn how to help our small friends. Then she taught me the skills I needed to be her team member.
We help the survivors of trauma and those who will be.
When I start to work with each one of our small friends, I have four wishes I hope they achieve: To feel safe, To feel loved, To feel strong and To feel unafraid.
One such friend comes to mind who was 6-years-old. His name was Andy, and his mother just died from a drug overdose…..
Wylie helped so many children in immeasurable ways. Due to only being able to reach a small number of friends directly, however, he decided to share his stories with the hope that others may be helped as well.
“Wylie’s Wishes – Andy’s Story” is the first in a series of books, each book will address a different trauma and the child’s journey through treatment.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Fund for Women at the Delaware Community Foundation, several DGS clients have benefited from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
The clients who participated were teenage girls in our Outpatient/Therapeutic Support for Families Program (OP/TSF). In OP/TSF, treatment services are primarily provided out of the office—in homes, schools, and the community for clients who need a higher-level of care than office-based services. DBT is an effective method for dealing with a wide range of issues. The main goals are to teach coping mechanisms and reduce stress.
Four basic skills are taught: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance.
Kevana Nixon, DGS OP/TSF Coordinator in New Castle County and Lindsay Griffin, DGS CARES Supervisor described how the teens learned each of these.
“Mindfulness is the foundation of DBT,” said Kevana. “It’s awareness of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” she continued. “We explored various aspects of the mind, such as logic and emotions, as well as the ideal state of mind.”
Distress tolerance techniques keep emotions manageable in tough times. Examples include visualization, finding meaning, and self-encouragement. “We used role playing with feedback for this part of work,” noted Lindsay.
For interpersonal effectiveness, clinicians covered the skills everyone needs to grow or maintain strong, healthy, positive relationships.
While focused on emotional regulation, the clients did a worksheet to explore, identify, and discuss their own thought process. “They learned to check the facts and make sure emotional reactions fit the situation,” said Kevana.
“At the end, the girls found DBT to be very helpful, especially because they got to hear from their peers,” concluded Lindsay.
DGS remains grateful to the Fund for Women, which has been making a difference in the lives of women and girls in Delaware since 1993, for providing funding for DBT group therapy. Through collective philanthropy, the Fund invests and advocates by bringing together knowledge, passion, and commitment to empower women and girls in Delaware to achieve their potential.