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.
“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.
Myth: Teenagers don’t suffer from “real” mental illnesses–they are just moody.
Myth: People who abuse drugs aren’t sick, they’re just weak.
Myth: Eating disorders only affect celebrities and models.
Myth: Children are too young to get depressed; it must be something else.
Myth: We’re good people. Mental illness doesn’t happen in our family.
Myth: Childhood mental health problems are the result of poor parenting.
Myth: Talk about suicide is an idle threat that need not be taken seriously.
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.
“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.
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.