‘Mental Health Toolkit’ compiles much-needed resources
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Students across Oregon are dealing with more emotional challenges than ever because of pandemic dangers, social isolation, economic uncertainties, fires, increased racial justice awareness, and the inequities and stresses inherent in distance learning.
The Oregon Department of Education has stepped into the storm with a new defensive bulwark for students’ mental health. On Wednesday, it launched its Mental Health and Well-being webpage with a “Mental Health Toolkit.” The webpage and toolkit are designed to help school staff and health professionals promote mental health in school communities.
Lisa Rullman, Phoenix-Talent School District social and emotional learning and professional development coordinator, said having more staff prepared to support students helps as school counselors and community partners are being overwhelmed with the need for mental health care.
“We’re living in a trauma right now,” she said. “The more resources people can use the better.”
Phoenix-Talent, south of Medford, has been coping with the aftereffects of a September wildfire that destroyed more than 2,300 homes.
Mental health resources are plentiful, she said, but ODE’s guidance offers a clear and aligned framework for what schools need to be doing. Rullman added that ODE’s guidance also adds a bit of weight to the importance of addressing students’ mental health and makes it easier to communicate goals with the community.
Before the onset of COVID-19, about one in five children had some sort of emotional behavioral problem and more than 70% of them accessed their mental health care through school, according to an ACLU report.
Schools are really on the front lines of mental health intervention, said B Grace Bullock, ODE senior mental health strategist.
She urged school leaders, including school board members, to prioritize time, energy and resources to mental health promotion and intervention.
“We need to recognize that mental health is a cornerstone of education,” Bullock said. “Students have to have mental health needs addressed to learn.”
The toolkit is designed to be accessible for everyone in the school community, but it is targeted for anyone who might deliver interventions for students, including counselors, teachers and administrators.
The toolkit includes tips and resource links culled by experts at ODE, the Oregon Health Authority and community mental health partners. ODE is committed to ongoing mental health engagement and updating the guide, Bullock said.
The guide is also aligned with ODE’s values, Bullock said, with sections devoted to elevating students’ voices, centering equity and anti-racism, and promoting inclusive school environments.
Joseph Leykam, mental health program manager for the Corvallis School District, praised the toolkit for talking honestly about helping the students who are being most profoundly affected by this year’s events.
Leykam said the way the toolkit shifts the messaging from mental illness to mental wellness will help with the stigma some communities still have around talking about mental health.
Schools can expect to see an ever-increasing number of students, staff and community members with traumatic stress from the pandemic and distance learning and schools need to transform their cultures to deal with that, Leykam said.
“How do we slow down and treat our colleagues with respect so they can transfer that to teachers and then to students?” he said. “If teachers are feeling safe and supported, then they have the capacity to provide that safety and support to students.”