Managing Your Mental Health: Taking care of students and staff this school year

Experts say starting on the right foot and addressing any concerns up front is a way to set up your child for success this year.
Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 6:36 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - There is no better time to focus on mental health than the beginning of the school year.

Experts say starting on the right foot and addressing any concerns up front is a way to set up your child for success this year.

“We’ve seen really high rates of whether it’s suicidal thinking or concerns about self-harm of other kinds. And so, we want to do everything we can to wrap our kids with love and mental health support,” Richmond Public Schools’ superintendent Jason Kamras said.

RPS is trying to do more for both students and teachers. It passed a 15-point care and safety plan this year and will add dozens of mental health professionals to assist its community. Though a continuous teacher and staff shortage shows, more work must be done.

“It looks like in the state budget, there’s going to be a little bit more funding for counselors,” Kamras said. “But we need to continue to invest as much as we possibly can.”

It’s something mental health experts say is needed now more than ever. The pandemic left many feeling isolated and changed students’ behaviors. Teen suicide attempts in teenagers are up 66% nationwide, and 58% of kids say they are either bullied or doing the bullying.

Child mental health experts recommend getting your child into a routine before the first day of school.

“You can actually bully-proof your child by connecting or attaching or bonding with that child because bullies don’t pick on kids who have healthy self-esteem and attachment actually creates a confident, healthy self-esteem, healthy sense of self-concept in a child when there’s an attachment in the family,” mental health expert Dr. Vince Callahan said.

Dr. Callahan says bullying and mental health among students got worse after the pandemic. He recommends attachment to prevent that, including meeting and understanding your child’s physical and emotional needs.

Experts recommend limiting screen time and getting into a routine. Even small things like packing a lunch with your children, getting backpacks ready before bed, and eating well could make a difference. Experts also advise making a connection with your child to show support.

“The average child on a screen right now, I believe, is four to six hours per day. Even for little kids, so they’re spending a lot of time on screens. And if you already come to the screen with a low self-esteem, or I’m really bored, or, you know, it’s a setup for someone being a bully,” Dr. Callahan said.