February 23, 2023

By Courtney Wise

With overworked school counselors and a Black youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, an expert from the National Alliance on Mental Illness calls on all reliable grownups — included parents coaches and teachers — to offer support and listening to teens. And as you’ll see, grownups who may be able to offer help include salon operators, who see kids daily.

Also in this edition, the School Counselor of the Year for 2023 reminds us that trauma affects kids’ brains, but so does healing. We also feature advice from Slate on what to do if your own child is a cyberbully, share an intriguing column from Fatherly, and explore a telehealth program to prevent maternal mortality. And in case you missed it, we’re including our own story on Prince Harry’s overwhelming grief over his mother’s death and his subsequent decade of magical thinking. And more.

“These kids can’t wait”: The struggle to serve Black youth in the mental health crisis

Years of social isolation during Covid have hit Black teens hard, especially because they are nearly two and a half times more likely to have lost a parent or caregiver during the pandemic. With many families of color also battered by pandemic-related job loss, hunger, and housing problems, the crisis has students desperate for support from school counselors – but in too many cases, help isn’t forthcoming, according to Capital B.

Although this is usually due to limited resources, it can cause some students to stop seeking help at all. Mira Ugwuadu did. “Oh, the counselors are too busy. … Oh, the counselor is in a meeting,” Ugwuadu said she was told. When she finally got an appointment, she said, “The counselor just told me, ‘We have to send you home,’ and barely even talked to me or addressed my concerns at all.” 

Ugwuadu’s experience reflects both students’ needs and caseloads too large for school counselors to carry. In the 2021-2002 school year, the average student-to-counselor ratio was 408 to 1. That’s 158 more students than recommended by The American School Counselor Association. It’s created lags in appointment wait times of up to one year, said Dr. Christine Crawford, associate medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s also why she’s pushing for more grownups to help the youth in their lives with their mental health needs, even if they aren’t trained and licensed mental health professionals. 

Coaches, parents, and teachers can all help, too, Crawsford said. “Kids just want someone to understand their experience and to listen. I’ve heard from kids that when they feel comfortable with an adult, they’re able to open up and share… It’s important for people to feel empowered that there’s some way in which they can be helpful in the matter, rather than sitting back being like, ‘Oh my goodness, we just don’t have therapists. We don’t have the resources.’”

Support can also come from unexpected quarters, like salons and barbershops, the article noted. After hair stylist Shari Baber of Boise Idaho, noticed the Black kids who came in to her salon didn’t seem to want to leave, she found out they were feeling lonely and isolated. She started out by holding birthday parties, something that morphed into a nonprofit, Brown Like Me. During the pandemic, she was also able to get some mental health professionals to talk with the kids. “It’s exciting to see people that look just like you, energetic and full of life,” Delphine told Capital B. “I’m around these powerful women and I want to be like them.”

Trauma changes the brain – but so does healing

“I think a lot of people focus on trauma changing the brain…but what they miss is that healing changes it as well.” That’s the perspective of Meredith Draughn, who the American School Counselor Association named the 2023’s School Counselor of the Year. As the nation continues to figure out how to navigate “post-pandemic life,” Draughn spoke with NPR about how educators and caregivers can help children and teens ease back into “normal lives” and healing. 

via Twitter

One way to help the entire family is to commit to establishing and sticking with daily routines, which serve as anchoring rituals. Habits provide youth with a sense of control, as does setting goals, both big and small.. “Those successes in small ways can lead to big impacts,” Draughn explained. Her own rituals involve greeting students at the school door each morning. “Kids want to feel known and want to feel loved. And greeting them by name is one way we can do that…Research shows that that helps us build a positive culture and a welcoming culture.”

Slate parenting columnist’s no-nonsense advice to a parent in shock over a cyberbully – her own son

“I discovered my sweet-seeming son is horrible online bully. I’m in shock at what I found – how do I make him stop?” This was the anguished question a parent sent to Slate a while back, adding that the behavior may be common among 13-year-old boys, but that her son was bullying a classmate, among others, calling him “retarded” and attacking his mother.

The advice from Slate columnist Nicole Chung was eloquent: “Whether this is ‘something a lot of boys do’ or not is irrelevant; your son is the one deliberately, methodically choosing to target and harm others. At 13, one likes to hope there’s still time to course-correct—I’d definitely take his devices and disable those social media accounts for a period of time, because he’s proven he cannot be trusted with them. But keep in mind that no one punishment is going to make a person less of a bully or toxic troll if they’re really determined to be one. Your son can still target other kids in person, at school. He can influence other kids to be bullies, too…He needs to understand that what he’s done is wrong, and then choose to change.” Read the rest of her response here.

In other news…

In case you missed it, check out MindSite News arts and culture writer Sarah Henry’s piece on the memoir Spare: Prince Harry and His Decade of Magical Thinking.” It explores the 12-year-old prince’s paralyzing grief over the loss of his mother, Princess Diana, and his fervent, decade-long conviction that she was actually still alive and would summon him and his brother to join her when it was safe. His book has inspired new interest in the treatment of traumatic loss.

In this piece from Fatherly, sure to bring you a little delight, a dozen dads share truths about themselves they were glad to know before their first child was born. Some of them are good qualities (“I know how to ask for help”), while others reveal their shortcomings (“I’m not patient when learning new things.”) 

The Medical University of South Carolina created a telehealth program to promote mental health during pregnancy and beyond: According to data from the CDC, four in five pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. To help reduce these, the Medical University of South Carolina developed Listening to Women and Pregnant and Postpartum People, or LTWP, a telehealth program supported by REDCap and Twillio. The program’s power lies in its ability to conduct mental health screenings with patients via SMS text messaging. Mental health screenings in  prenatal care are usually done face to face with a healthcare provider, Constance Guille of MUSA told Healthcare IT News, but research shows patients are more likely to be forthcoming about problems ”when asked via technology.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...

Diana Hembree, MS, is MindSite News co-founding editor. She is a health and science journalist who served as a senior editor at Time Inc. Health and its physician’s magazine, Hippocrates, for four years,...