Kids and Mental Health: ‘Parenting Doesn’t Come With a Manual’

Students talk with Pastor Tommy McCaul about communication skills

During Wyoming Public Schools’ mental health series, parents and students explored ways to improve communication with each other.

Listening before reacting; approaching each other at the right time; using good body language and knowing what’s going on in students’ lives were some of the tips.

Student Deja Coldiron responds to tips on communicating with parents
Student Deja Coldiron responds to tips on communicating with parents

“Parenting doesn’t come with a manual,” said Anne Maede, who has a freshman and a junior in the district and attended the series for information. “It’s hard being a parent, but to have the opportunity to hear these ideas is refreshing on how positive parenting can be.”

Positive relationships are key to good metal health, said Wyoming Junior High social worker Brooke Davis. When it comes to suicide prevention issues such as depression and anxiety, effective communication and knowing what resources to seek if mental illness is suspected are crucial.

She and other educators recently hosted the three-week series at Wyoming Junior High School to link families with resources and get students involved with positive activities.

Topics included “Emotional Wellness: Live, Laugh, Love, with Christy Buck,” executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan; “Communicating with Youth,” with Pastor Raycheen Sims, from Grand Rapids First Church; and “Communicating with Adults,” with Pastor Tommy McCaul, also from Grand Rapids First Church.

“As a district, we decided to look at the area of how to reach parents on the topic of mental health,” Davis said. “I talk to students and they sometimes don’t feel a part of anything. We really want them to get connected.”

Myths and Facts Concerning Mental Health

Myth: Troubled youth just need more discipline.
Fact: Almost 20 percent of youths in juvenile justice facilities have a serious emotional disturbance, and most have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Myth: Teenagers don’t suffer from “real” mental illnesses–they are just moody.
Fact: One in five teens has some type of mental health problem in a given year. Ten million children and adolescents suffer from a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.

Myth: People who abuse drugs aren’t sick, they’re just weak.
Fact: Over 66 percent of young people with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health problem that complicates treatment.

Myth: Eating disorders only affect celebrities and models.
Fact: Three to 5 percent of teenage girls and 4 to 10 percent of boys have a diagnosable eating disorder. Anorexia affects 2.5 million Americans and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Myth: Children are too young to get depressed; it must be something else.
Fact: More than 2 million children suffer from depression in the United States, and more than half of them go untreated.

Myth: We’re good people. Mental illness doesn’t happen in our family.
Fact: One in four families is affected by a mental health problem.

Myth: Childhood mental health problems are the result of poor parenting.
Fact: If someone in your family has a mental illness, then you may have a greater chance of developing the illness. Mental illness generally has little or nothing to do with parenting.

Myth: Talk about suicide is an idle threat that need not be taken seriously.
Fact: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among high school students and the second leading cause among college students. Talk about suicide should always be taken seriously.

Source: Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan

Knowing Where to Turn

The topic is especially relevant at Wyoming Junior High, where students, staff and community members were hit hard by the suicide death of ninth-grader Brandon Larsen in October, Davis said.

“For us, it is getting kids to communicate with adults and adults to communicate with kids in an appropriate fashion so they trust us. We believe that leads to kids being more connected to the community, so we start to see a decrease in that suicide rate we’ve started to see a spike in,” she said.

That message resonated with Grace Terpstra, a Grandville High School sophomore and member of the Wyoming Teen Council.

Pastor Tommy McCaul, from Grand Rapids First Church, talks to students about communicating well
Pastor Tommy McCaul, from Grand Rapids First Church, talks to students about communicating well

“A lot of kids really struggle with mental health,” she said. “This is very important because it honestly shapes who they are and who they become.”

According to data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, from 1986 to 2000, suicide rates in the U.S. dropped from 12.5 to 10.4 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in the population. Over the next 12 years, however, the rate generally increased, and by 2013 stood at 12.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2013, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

Brandon’s death led to a district investigation on whether he had been bullied at school. Though the investigation resulted in no evidence of that occurring, Davis said it’s imperative students notify adults when they see bullying, and learn to be strong enough to take a stand.

Closing gaps and building bridges is the result of effective dialogue, and Davis said it can have a tremendous impact on mental well-being.

Wyoming Junior High social worker Brooke Davis works to build awareness of mental health issues
Wyoming Junior High social worker Brooke Davis works to build awareness of mental health issues

The series culminated in a “Camp & Resource Fair Extravaganza,” where families received information on summer camp opportunities for students to have positive experiences during the summer.

The effort involved a partnership with Wyoming-based Grand Rapids First Church, the City of Wyoming Teen Council and several organizations including Network 180, a community mental health authority for Kent County.

CONNECT

Network 180

Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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