By now, you have surely read, heard, or listened to a news broadcast about the state of mental health in this country. We are living in unprecedented times as a nation and as a global community. According to the World Health Organization, the state of mental health ranks as one of the leading causes of disability. Its elevation should be a cause of real concern, especially in relationship to the lives of our children and our youth.
We are living in precarious times. It is a time of global uncertainty, anxiety, and unrest.
Whether you are discussing tensions brought on by economics, the pandemic, the political environment, or the churning of society’s core belief systems; we are in a time of global uncertainty. How does this translate onto the life of a child? Children are the most vulnerable around those that they trust, or in some cases, distrust. Moreover, they are influenced by those who have taken on the role of a caregiver. For many years, I have had a core belief that teachers and teaching staff are simply surrogate caregivers. After all, teachers and staff have direct contact with our children for approximately 6 to 7 hours a day. This may vary depending on the school and if the student rides the school bus, but the reality is, it takes a village to raise a child.
While they spend countless hours with teachers, coaches, and instructors of all types, the truth is, children are more likely to be impacted by issues related to a parent than they are those related to their teachers. Nevertheless, this is not to say that those in direct contact with our children have no influence over their behaviours, attitudes, perceptions or worldview. To the contrary, for we know that whatever the role, the life of a child is capable of being influenced by anyone who plays a significant role in their life. Likewise, we know that a child who is aware of their caregiver’s willingness to seek out care, is influenced by this decision. They are the most receptive to a parental caregiver who is willing to express their own vulnerability and find answers to cope and manage this particular issue. Moreover, we know that teachers, coaches and other staff bring their stresses to work. Yet, we seldom take this under consideration. The probability of a child being influenced and impacted by any adult is higher when they have a direct and ongoing relationship with that child.
Any person can be vicariously affected by an individual they have an ongoing relationship with. Thus, the vicarious affects are significantly higher when we are in direct contact with that individual and they have a position of power or authority over us. Therefore, it is important to recognize that children and youth are in the direct line of influence. They are influenced by the day to day nuances of an individual’s mannerisms, moods, frustrations, and overall personality. They are influenced by an individual’s nonverbal and verbal communications, but we seldom consider the direct and indirect effects of the academic setting on the life of a child. While one may hope that a majority of teachers and professional staff know how to manage their own levels of stress and anxiety, there are those moments that a teacher’s personal life invades the classroom setting. What are we doing to ensure the wellbeing of our children in all environments?
Our mental health has a direct baring upon the life a child. If we refuse the proper care, then this too can have a dire effect. Have you ever worked in an environment that is unfavourable? Have you ever worked with a colleague who brings their personal drama to work? The likelihood is relatively high that you have been indirectly and directly impacted, or even influence, by another’s personal mental health. Please understand that you do not have to speak of your stressor to project your stress on the life of another. Stress and anxiety have this incredible way of boring into our minds. It does not even have to be our own stress or anxiety.
The impact of mental health is not unlike the woodworm. Woodworms have this amazing way of propelling themselves through various timber, by using pincers to bore a hole through wood. Similarly, you may be a solid person. You may have never had a mental health concern or even been exposed to someone with an extreme mental health condition. Yet, just like that solid piece of timber, you are suddenly impacted by something that you never dreamt of. Do not consider yourself weak or of frail mind. Do not allow the naysayers in the back of your mind to dismiss this challenge. Please do understand that mental health challenges have the ability of effecting the strongest of individuals.
Let’s consider the following, adults often have a difficult time confronting a colleague at work, much less their boss, about issues stemming from the workplace. What if, your boss has a grave mental health condition and this is having an influence over your personal performance, what would you do? How would you proceed? Would you consider speaking with this individual? What if, they are not receptive? Would you consider going above their head for support? As a manager, how would you show support for both individuals?
As adults, we should be aware of any protocols and guidelines with which to proceed with our concerns. Now let’s take this down a different path, what if, you are a child? What if, your teacher or someone within the academic setting is causing you undue distress? What if, your teacher’s stressors are having an effect upon you? What avenues do you have to seek out support? Where do you turn to? What if, the issue is coming from the principal? As adults, we know and recognize that there are measures with which to find support for a child. What is the probability that a child knows that there are supports in place to keep them safe? What is the probability that a child knows that they do not have to put up with the egregious behaviours of another, including an adult?
We are in a precarious time indeed! The issues stemming from stress and anxiety are directly or indirectly impacting nearly every person on this planet. By the way, you would be the exception not to have been impacted in one way or another.
Now how do we go about showing support for those that are the most vulnerable? Make your child aware that it is never too late to find help. Make them aware that they are not alone with their personal struggles, and that it is absolutely normal to face such struggles. After all, research has indicated that one in four individuals are facing a mental health challenge. Remind your child of your admiration, appreciation and unconditional love. Encourage your child to have daily, yes daily conversations about their day. Encourage your child to discuss their likes, dislikes, comforts, discomforts, and anything that they maybe feeling. Avoid ridiculing or dismissing your child’s feelings about events, situations, circumstances or individuals who may have influence over them. Show your child support by acting as an advocate and ally. Do not hesitate finding a trained therapist who can offer confidential and compassionate counsel. Be certain that your child is receiving the proper supports in school and at home. Remember that we are actively raising these children together. Parents and teachers you are not alone. Most of all, be certain that your home and school are a safe haven for the life of your child.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA