School Beat: Mental Health Liaisons for Rockford Public Schools

By KIRSTEN MYERS,
Executive Director of Special Education

Mental health issues are the most common health issues faced by our nation’s children today. One in five children suffer from a mental health disorder, and 80% of chronic mental health conditions start in early childhood. Approximately 50% of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of school, and many of those that are unidentified and untreated tragically end up in jails and prisons. Furthermore, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 14, and every day in the United States 5,240 students in grades 7-12 make an actual suicide attempt.

Due to these staggering statistics, Rockford Public Schools continues to provide a platform for mental health awareness and suicide prevention through our Developing Healthy Kids and related activities.   This year through our Developing Healthy Kids Campaign we have added Mental Health Liaisons at the elementary, middle, and high school to help identify mental health needs of students, and guide them to an appropriate level of support based on their presenting concerns.   The liaisons are providing support to students and families who are at the crisis level and who need assistance in navigating the community mental health system, including outpatient, inpatient, or residential treatment facilities. The liaisons also help guide students and families being admitted to, or discharged from, psychiatric inpatient or residential treatment facilities.   In addition to the liaison support, our focus continues to be educating our students and staff about the following common diagnostic disorders that we are seeing within the school setting, and providing support to find treatment options:

  • Depression/Mood Disorders – A serious medical condition in which a person feels sad, hopeless, and unimportant while unable to live a normal life.
    • Common thinking traps for people with depression are magnifying the negative aspects of a situation while overlooking the positive, catastrophizing, repetitive behavior of blaming others for problems they are experiencing, and seeing things as all or nothing, such as, “It’s all my fault,” or, “I can’t do anything right.”
    • Warning Signs: Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, problems with self-esteem/image, withdrawal, change of friends and social groups, loss of interest in activities, physical changes and personal neglect, down mood/affect, cutting/self-harm, or substance use.
  • Anxiety – A feeling or worry, unease, or nervousness about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
    • Anxiety requires more effort to perform well, which drains resources to manage emotions and can look very much like ADHD.
    • Anxiety disorders include Obsessive Control Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder.
    • Warning Signs: Feeling overwhelmed, racing thoughts, problems falling asleep, constant worrying, feeling sick, stomach aches/vomiting, loss of appetite, panic attacks, loss of focus and attention, social stress and avoidance, or fidgets/tics.
  • Trauma – A life changing event that impacts the functioning of an individual in a significant manner.
    • Trauma is an anxiety related disorder and not always associated with violence.
    • Trauma can occur following a major life event, or something that may seem minor to outsiders. Warning Signs: Loss of focus/attention, acting out/attention seeking behaviors, inability to comply with expectations, lack of emotional regulation, forgetfulness, racing thoughts, impulsivity, substance use issues, or cutting and other forms of self-harm.

If you have questions regarding the mental health liaisons, or are looking for mental health support for your child, please contact your school’s guidance counselor and/or Rockford Special Services at 616.262.4371, or kmyers@rockfordschools.org to be connected to a mental health liaison.

Also, don’t forget our upcoming Developing Healthy Kids Sessions on February 1st (I Am Unstoppable) and April 11th (Next Gen: Turning Distress Into Success) from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Rockford High School Auditorium.