Monday, November 5, 2012

Stand up for children's mental health

After 10 years teaching middle school children, I am now in my third year teaching children in an inpatient psychiatric assessment unit. It is a gross understatement to say that teaching in the hospital has been a life changing experience.

No one in their right mind is going to disagree with the sentiment of the video above. Saying that we should stand up for children's mental health is not a controversial statement... so why do so many children still suffer?

I won't presume to have the answer because there isn't likely one answer. It's complex. However, after spending almost three years teaching in the hospital and working with kids with mental health problems, I have a few thoughts:
  • It's easy to get distracted. For the most part, parents and teachers are good people with the best intentions. We all want what's best for our children; however, when life get's busy and complicated, it's easy to get caught up with tests, grades, homework, competition, meetings, externally mandated curricula, quizzes, report cards, honour rolls, scholarships, winning, losing and sports.
  • It's easy to assume everything is okay. When adults ask adults, "how are you?", adults tend to say, "good", even when things are not good. While adults do this often, the kids are watching and learning. If we ask, "is everything okay", we need to be prepared to hear kids say, "yes" but see that their body language says, "no".
  • It's easy to assume that someone else will help. The bystander effect tells us that people are less likely to offer help when other people are present. Too often we relinquish our responsibility to help others by convincing ourselves that someone else will help.
  • It's easy to make mental health a day that we check off on the calendar. Making mental health, bullying and healthy eating one-day special events might look good on our accountability reports but it does nothing to address what children need.
At the heart of a healthy home and a good school are relationships. When we get distracted, make assumptions and/or disengage from children, we fail them more than they could ever fail us.

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