Mental Health in a Pandemic

Mental Health in a Pandemic

It’s September. As I type this it’s unseasonably cool, a wonderful 57 degrees. I’m drinking coffee in my office after dropping my kids off at school. And yet, I’m reminded by the mask next to me and the empty building. I’m literally the only person here. That life is still not “normal.” Six months in, we are still walking the tight rope between returning to a sense of normalcy and living in a pandemic. There are no simple answers, and everyone is making decisions based on what they believe to be best for their unique situation. Opinions are strong and stress levels are high.

As schools are starting, online or in-person, we are starting to see at Teen Life the impacts that life in the past six months have had on our students – the ones that live in our homes, go to our schools, and the ones we interact with on a regular basis. And honestly, it makes me stop and think about what we need to do now. Allow me to explain.

Today, I ran across an article on NPR stating what schools and experts have all been thinking for the past 6 months. Per the article, early studies suggest that “teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March.” In fact, the initial data collected between March and June 2020 indicated that for youth age 18 to 24, that 1 in 4 had “seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.” Let me say that again 1 in 4. 25%.

But let me take it a little bit closer to home for some of us. Texas. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram posted this article in 2019 which references the CDC’s Texas High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In 2019, 18.9% of Texas high school students surveyed indicated they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey. 15% of students made a plan and 10% had made a suicide attempt. An astounding 38.3% of high school students in Texas felt sad or hopeless. Every statistic listed above is higher than the national average.

One more step. Let’s talk Fort Worth. Data from the same survey indicated that in 2019, 14.8% of high school students in Fort Worth had seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey. 12.6% of Fort Worth students had made a plan and 11.1% reported a suicide attempt. 33.5% of Fort Worth high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless. 1 in 3.

Those local numbers – that was before COVID. Before students were cut off from peers and other positive adult influences. Before the average of students seriously considering suicide, which Texas is consistently above, were estimated to jump to almost 25%.

The NPR Article makes a few suggestions and I’d like to summarize and expound on them here.

  1. Watch for red flags – Be on the lookout for sadness that persists for days, for anger that is uncommon for the student, for comments about wanting to disappear or indicating that no one cares.
  2. Check in regularly – It seems easy, but often is challenging when everyone else is always around. Be willing to listen to their thoughts and feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask directly if your student is considering self-harm or suicide.
  3. Look for opportunities for your student to interact – Maybe it’s sports, maybe at a job, maybe they can volunteer, maybe it’s allowing them space to interact with a mentor. Encourage your student to find a space to see peers and other positive role models.
  4. Seek help – If you are concerned about a student, ask for help. Find a therapist. Call a hotline number. Contact the school for a referral.

Mental health during a pandemic can’t be overlooked and it’s fitting that September is also National Suicide Prevention Month. Check in on your student. Check on your own mental health. Pay attention. What you do and your willingness to be active in students’ lives, can make a huge difference.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations.
Restorative Practices with Sarah Sampson

Restorative Practices with Sarah Sampson

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In this episode, Chris and Karlie talk to Sarah Sampson about the basics of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Restorative Practices. Sarah gives some great insight into how to use belonging circles and sentence stems to have difficult conversations around race and privilege. She talks about some practical uses for restorative practices in the home and at school while also giving advice on how to advocate for SEL resources at your students’ schools.

Here are some good conversation starters:

  • A time I felt left out was…
  • I’m most conscious of my race when…
  • I cope with the difficulties race creates for me and others by…
  • I experience privilege by…
  • I make others feel more welcome by…
 
Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers – difficult conversations are uncomfortable. But it is important to empower teens to have these discussions by giving them a safe place to practice. Let’s give teenagers a place to grow and learn!

 

About Us:
Sarah Sampson is founder of Art of the Circle, an organization that provides trainings, consultation, experiences to schools, businesses, and individuals using circle practices based in Restorative Justice, Social-Emotional Learning, and Mindfulness. As the former Social-Emotional Learning Facilitator for Keller ISD, Sarah led the district-wide implementation of SEL and mindfulness-based activities for over 34,000 students. Sarah is trained in MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) through the UC San Diego Medical School. As a certified social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and yoga teacher, Sarah has developed training, curriculum and workshops to empower educators and humans of all kinds nation-wide.
 
 
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 10 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
Education and Race with Dr. Jackson

Education and Race with Dr. Jackson

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Recently, Chris and Karlie got to have a conversation with Dr. Tishara Jackson about race, and especially how it impacts the education system and our teenagers. Dr. Jackson is an intervention counselor in a local school district and has been a friend of Teen Life’s for a long time! We are thankful for her advice on how to start race conversations, the appropriate language and terminology to use, and how we can educate ourselves.

This podcast episode is full of resources, tips, and a different perspective that is needed. Our schools are not always equal, and no matter the race, teenagers are aware of the racial discussions that are taking place in our country right now. Let’s take a minute to listen and learn how we can have these conversations well to empower the teenagers in our lives!

 

About Us:
With 20 years of experience in education and nearly 15 years as a certified school counselor, Dr. Tishara Jackson has gained extensive experience and training in helping teens and young adults who have difficult lives and the adults who care for them.  Since 2012, she has been an intervention counselor within a leading Texas school district, providing counseling services for students from elementary through high school with negative coping skills. Dr. Jackson is a Texas Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (lic.# 15299), with a B.S. in Speech Pathology and Audiology, M.S. in School Guidance and Counseling, and an Ed.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. To have life balance, she enjoys having good food with family and friends, lounging in bed with a good book, and playing with her dogs.
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 10 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

Life has been crazy lately – especially for teenagers who are facing a school year full of unknown. But with disrupted summer plans, teens are spending more time online than ever before. They have had to go online for school, to talk to friends, to keep busy, and to stay connected to the world outside their homes.

If you’re like my family, screen-time limits have flown out the window, and we are all in survival mode to keep kids happy, entertained, and connected. It is understandable that expectations around devices are different right now, but one thing should remain the same – you should be talking to your kids about what they are viewing, watching, and downloading.

As adults, we need to help teenagers think critically about what they are consuming online. Here are a few areas where you can ask questions and engage your teen in conversation!

1. TikTok

This newer app is extremely popular with teens. If you haven’t heard of it, I would encourage you to do some research, but it is an app where users can create content (most are lip-synching videos) and watch other user-generated videos. It is fun and addictive, but many videos include adult language and content.

Ask teens if they have downloaded the app. Have they created videos? Who do they follow? Have any strangers tried to message them? What are their privacy settings?

2. Streaming Apps

There are a lot of streaming apps that have incredible content. Between Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Starz, and more, teenagers have endless choices of movies and tv shows to watch. While this opens up great options for family-friendly movies and educational shows, it also includes content that might be inappropriate for teens. There is not consistency among age-based content ratings, so do some research on what your teens are watching.

Ask some of these questions: What have you been watching lately? What do your friends like to watch? How do you know if a show or movie is appropriate to watch?

**You can also easily check the “recently watched” or “continue watching” lists to see what your teen is viewing.

3. Instagram

Instagram is not new, but it continues to be one of the most popular social media platforms for teens. It never hurts to check in on apps you know your teen has and loves, so start a conversation about Instagram! Encourage teens to follow accounts that will encourage and help them grow. It is easy to use Instagram as an unhealthy comparison game, but teens can choose who they follow and what content they digest.

Start by asking this: What Instagram accounts encourage you when you see their posts? Who do you follow that looks different than you? Is there anyone that you need to unfollow? How can you use your own Instagram to encourage others?

4. FaceTime/Zoom

Social-distancing guidelines are constantly changing, which might encourage teens to use video chat apps to connect with friends and family. This is a great way to stay in touch, play games virtually, or interact with friends “face-to-face”. However, since these apps are readily available on phones and computers, it can be tempting to use them inappropriately, especially if there is little adult supervision.

Check in by asking the following: Who do you talk to most often on FaceTime/Zoom? Has anyone asked you to do anything inappropriate while on video chat? What boundaries would help protect you while using video chat?

5. Gaming Apps

More time can also mean that teens will turn to gaming apps/consoles to keep their hands (and minds) busy. These can have cognitive and social benefits, but we should also encourage teens to find non-technology-related ways to occupy their time. Whether it is Candy Crush, Call of Duty, or Yahtzee, teens need to make sure their time is balanced.

What games do you like to play on your phone/gaming system? Have you checked your screen time lately? What could you do to lessen your screen time average by an hour this week? How else could you fill your time if you took a tech break for an hour every day?

Technology is incredibly helpful to learn, connect, grow, and entertain. The apps listed above are far from bad, but it is still important to be intentional about how we use our time. As we enter the last half of the summer, I hope you will look at your own tech usage and start conversations with your kids about how they can use technology to make a positive impact on their day!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

5 Areas of Focus for Social Distancing

5 Areas of Focus for Social Distancing

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

 

Here we are…still social distancing! In this podcast episode, Chris and Karlie discuss 5 different areas of focus that can help shape this unique time of social distancing. They will talk about the importance of…

    • Physical movement
    • Mindful moments
    • Self-care
    • Tech breaks
    • Generosity

It is so vital that you take care of yourself and encourage teenagers to do the same. We might have to change our expectations, and that is OKAY. But let’s make the best of this time of social distancing due to COVID-19! While we hope that life can return to “normal” soon, we want to continue to equip teenagers to grow, learn, and thrive today while also maintaining hope for the future.

 

Resources:
In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 8 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
The Trauma of No School

The Trauma of No School

It’s been 8 weeks. Eight weeks since life felt “normal.” Eight weeks since my kids went to school, since my husband and I have been out for a date, since I worked in the same location as my co-workers. Eight weeks filled with fun memories with my husband and kids. Eight weeks filled with hard decisions, fighting siblings, and days spent trying to spin all of the plates. Eight weeks filled with joy and guilt and frustration all mixed together. While eight weeks seems so long, in many ways, I also know that this too will pass. That the hard days will give way to better days.

However, for many students, the last eight weeks have looked very different than for my family and me. Truthfully, traumatic might be a better word to describe it.

I read an NPR article this past week entitled Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students. This article put into words what so many of us at Teen Life and so many of our school partners are thinking and saying. Closing schools is traumatic for so many of the students that we as facilitators at Teen Life interact with each week. For many of our students, school is one of the few places they feel safe and seen. One of the few places where there is a caring adult who is willing to help when life seems overwhelming. A place where someone is available to help process feelings in contrast to a place where students can be easily triggered.

Between closed schools, social isolation, food scarcity and parental unemployment, the coronavirus pandemic has so destabilized kids’ support systems that the result, counselors say, is genuinely traumatic.

Cory Turner

Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students (NPR)

Schools provide much needed “check-ins” for students of all ages. Cook Children’s recently reported that they had seen 6 cases of severe child abuse in one week as the stay at home order began, when they typically see that many cases over the span of a month.

So, with all of this potential trauma, what do we do now? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Maintain some level of human connection – Zoom calls, phone calls, FaceTime, MarcoPolo – whatever works for you. This applies to adults and students alike.
  2. Check in with the students you know. Text, call, interact on socials. If you are a parent, take a few extra minutes to talk about what concerns your child has and what they wish for or miss the most.
  3. Normalize the feelings. It’s normal and appropriate to be frustrated or sad or mad. Or to be all of those at once. Help the students you live with and interact with remember that as Franciene Sabens states in the NPR article: “It’s OK to not be OK. I mean, most of the world is not OK right now.”
  4. Lastly, start planning for how to transition back to school, even when that seems an eternity away. Students will still be figuring out what happens next and how has life changed after many months away from “normal.”

“School leaders should right now be planning for the future, asking how they can best support students when they come back to school, Laura Ross, [a middle school counselor in Lawrenceville, Ga] says, “making sure that we’re prepared to deal with some of those feelings that are going to increase — of anxiousness, of grief, of that disconnect that they had for so long.”

Cory Turner

Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students (NPR)

I cannot tell you if or when life will look like it did before COVID-19. However, we at Teen Life hope that you are able to continue to serve the students in your lives for the next 8 weeks, 8 months, or 8 years despite the trauma experienced and the inevitable challenges that lay ahead today and in the future.

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations.