June 10, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Research Roundup is on a summer hiatus.

Today we are pleased to bring you two stories that represent what we’re trying to do at MindSite News. One looks at an innovative program to create solutions to the youth mental health crisis; the other investigates politicized efforts to undermine this very work.

On Wednesday, in our Solutions Lab section, we published an on-the-ground look at the TRAILS program in Michigan, which helps students feel connected and engaged in their classrooms and lives – and trains teachers and school personnel to support students and recognize when they are disturbed or suicidal. It is the kind of program that may help reduce the wave of depression and anxiety that young Americans are experiencing, a crisis linked to the sharp rise in the rate of youth suicides. It was co-published with Bridge Michigan, another nonprofit news outlet.

A related MindSite News investigation, published in April, looked at the campaign against social-emotional learning waged by conservative groups with ties to dark money. Here’s an excerpt from the Solutions Lab story, and below it, an excerpt from our investigation.

As youth mental health crisis rages, Michigan schools work to bolster students’ sense of connection 

Erickson Elementary School fifth grade teacher Nikki Krings in the doorway of her classroom in Ypsilanti, Mich. Photo: Erin Kirkland for Bridge

The bell rang a little after a gloomy dawn. As a trickle of A.P. Spanish students settled into their wooden desks, teacher Zachary Daniels powered up his smartboard. Behind him, the classroom wall was covered with translated verbs – Explico (explain), Escribe (write) – written on a large, white scroll. 

For this morning’s lesson, Daniels asked the students to use a different kind of language, to look within and name a feeling. Did they walk through the doors feeling humiliated? Guilty? Peaceful? Were their outlooks tainted by hopelessness or brightened by hope?

It was late March and the world outside Paw Paw High School, located in a rural stretch of western Michigan, seemed increasingly threatening. The war raging in Ukraine was dominating airwaves and news feeds. A school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, had left four students dead. And Covid continued its inexorable march.

As Daniels spoke, he passed out a worksheet filled with 29 colorful, cartoon images of children’s faces, each expressing a unique mood. The worksheet guided the students to rate the intensity of their feelings on a scale of 1 to 10, and they jotted down their answers quietly. 

“The way we think and feel and act affects the next situation that comes up,” Daniels told the class. “And that creates a cycle that can really impact the way that our days go.”

The mindfulness check has become a weekly ritual for the 650 or so students at Paw Paw High. Daniels wants his students to interpret their thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way. Mastering this skill will take consistent practice.

Read the rest of this story here.

What’s Behind the Protests Against Schools Trying to Boost Kids’ Mental Health?

During the pandemic, Idaho students, teachers and families were hit hard by school closures, coronavirus breakouts, and a brewing mental health crisis. Suicide attempts among kids twelve and under were on the rise. And a 2021 report from the state’s hospital emergency departments suggested many youth in Idaho – like kids throughout the country – were struggling with thoughts of depression, self-harm and hopelessness.

Small wonder that Sherri Ybarra, the state’s Republican superintendent of public instruction, appeared frustrated last fall by protests about the state’s support for social-emotional learning (SEL) – an educational approach based on the idea that kids learn and do best when they feel safe, valued and connected. In October, a libertarian group called the Idaho Freedom Foundation assailed the education department’s SEL efforts as a stealth campaign  “to hide a vehicle for critical race theory from the public.” 

At a virtual symposium on school safety shortly afterward, Ybarra defended SEL forcefully, citing a student suicide days earlier and a school shooting incident last May, according to an account of the meeting on IdahoEdNews.org, a local news site.

“Depression, alcohol, suicide – those things know no boundaries, and no demographic when it comes to affecting our kids,” she told symposium attendees, adding that she and the education department “will not tolerate being shamed or scared off of a program that prevents kids from dying.”

Read the rest of this story here.

Please check out all of our stories at mindsitenews.org. And please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. They – or you – can sign up for our newsletter here.

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

The MindSite News Team

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Rob Waters, the founding editor of MindSite News, is an award-winning health and mental health journalist. He was a contributing writer to Health Affairs and has worked as a staff reporter or editor at...