Students’ mental health impacted by school threats

Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 5:36 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - There have been nine unfounded school threats across our hometowns this month.

As her kids get ready for school, Paola Santos worries if it’s the last time she will see them.

“It’s really sad that every morning I have to hug my children extra tight because of everything that is going on in school,” said Santos. “So, it’s like all day I am just thinking about ‘Is there gonna be another threat?’ “Should I send my children to school?’”

But Santos’ worries go beyond their physical safety at school. She’s concerned for their mental health. Carilion Clinic Chair of psychiatry and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine professor Dr. Robert Trestman says fake school threats disrupt the class and kids’ mental health.

“Particularly those who are predisposed to or are already dealing with anxiety issues, it only can make it worse. Because it all of a sudden brings in the very real fear that this can happen again,” said Trestman.

Trestman explains seeing police officers inside schools can make a child feel unsafe, especially children of color.

“So we have to recognize that each of these children in their different classrooms coming from different backgrounds will react differently, some positively and some negatively,” explained Trestman.

He recommends school staff reinforce officers are there to keep them safe. Both teachers and parents should have open communication with the kids.

“How was school today? What’s going on? What are you thinking about? What are your friends telling you? And not be satisfied with that “everything’s okay,” added Trestman.

The responsibility isn’t on one person; Trestman says everyone needs to work together. After the incidents this week, Santos is organizing a parents’ group to try to bridge the gap.

“I feel like the school and the parents have a division,” explained Santos. “And they feel like the school isn’t doing anything. And the school feels like the parents aren’t doing anything. So, we have to come together for those students.”

Trestman said students often don’t see the consequences fake threats can have. So, everyone needs to be on the same page and communicate the consequences.