April is the “Month of the Military Child,” recognizing the unique challenges, stressors, and emotional trials commonly experienced by these impressionable young minds. Fortunately, the Military support system has clearly identified and defined this concern and put into place actionable policy and procedure to ensure the family of our Military are supported. UNfortunately, our public and private sector could do a much better job supporting ALL of our youth throughout the many stressors and emotional trials many of our youth endure.
The tragic impact of the stressors and emotional trials facing our youth is all too often evident in our daily news feeds, to include the suicides of youth survivors directly correlated to the anniversary of tragic events such as Parkland, and even the suicide of a parent directly related to the tragic loss of a child in the Sandy Hook incident. In addition to these extreme stressors on the minds of our youth, please consider the emotional distress and unique challenges facing youth due to the multitude of societal issues prevalent today, such as broken families, poverty, increasing reports of hate crimes, violence in our communities and regularly seen on our nightly news. All of these factors are extreme in and of itself, and don’t even touch upon the expectations we place on our children adding unintended mental stressors and unique challenges.
This past week, I had the opportunity to facilitate restorative circles in classrooms on the topic of Mental Health Awareness and Coping with Anxiety. The cadets were thoroughly engaged and ultimately appreciative of the opportunity to talk in a group about topics such as Depression, Anxiety, Suicide, and most importantly the pressures of being a school aged teen that will be transitioning soon to adulthood. One thing I definitely learned is that these stressors are REAL. Here are some sample stressors that many cadets reported, and may also be stressors that are influencing your cadet’s mental resiliency:
- Relationships – friends, mom, dad, teachers, girl/boyfriend, …..
- FSA – “why do we have to pass this test to graduate?” “what if I can’t pass this test?”
- I still don’t know what I want to do when I graduate
- Work … “uuhhhgggg”
- “We can’t afford ….”
- “Why do we need to know all that?!?” “It’s too hard!”
- “I hate …. “ (writing, reading, chemistry, talking, …)
- “I’m not good at … “ (writing, reading, chemistry, talking, …)
- “I have to work ….can’t afford college …”
- “I’m afraid to talk about ….” (depression, anxiety …)
This is only a sample list of the multitude of concerns affecting the mental fortitude of our cadets on a daily basis, along with more intense factors such as diagnosed and undiagnosed depression, anxiety and other commonly ignored mental wellness issues.
The question we are left with, is “how do we support each other?” and “how do I cope with these issues?”. One root to the answer rests in the realm of interpersonal communications; positive and supportive relationships. Another root to the answer is the consistent building of resiliency. So how does that happen?
- Listening – many times when a youth comes to us, as a teacher, mentor, and even parent, we hear their complaint and quickly want to offer our “expert advice” or criticize their approach to the problem. Sometimes children just needs someone to listen, and will eventually solve the problem themselves.
- Support – we are often quick to judge, because we have “been there/done that” and we are the adult. You may feel you understand what they are going through, but they don’t think you do. Just listen, once again, and be supportive – verify that what they are going through sounds really tough. Then …
- Ask if they have any ideas to approach the situation …
- Get them talking about how this situation came about …
- Ask them, “How can I help?” Let them come up with solutions, and then provide support.
- Provide Positive/Supportive Environment – are things stressful at home? Is the environment adding to the anxiety?
- Take a break; go fishing. Maybe take in a movie, or how about just take a walk. Perhaps ask your child if he/she wants to invite a friend over for dinner or to watch TV/play video games. Sometimes we all need a little mental health break, before we can refocus and get back to the task at hand.
- Sleep, Eat, Exercise! All of these things, which we usually take for granted, are integral factors in our own mental resiliency. Some of us have embraced that knowledge; many of us are oblivious to that knowledge; children have yet to learn the importance of healthy lifestyles.
- Resources – yeah, sometimes we are over our head. “I’ve done everything listed above but there doesn’t seem to be any progress?” Yes, sometimes it is more than we can do alone. There is help. Please accept these resources as the lifeline you may need:
- SMA Administration: 941-926-1700
- SMA Counseling Office: 941-926-1700 ext. 221
- CRISIS TEXT LINE: Text HERE4U to 741741 – 24/7 + confidential
- Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255
- Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
- Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
- LGBT+ Hotline: 1-800-246-7743
- Eating Disorders: 1-800-931-2237