When Catherine Albert heard Yale Jr. High School was on Lockdown due to a school Threat on March 22, she first thought how it would affect her daughter’s anxiety.
“That was my biggest fear, was she having a Panic attack?” Catherine Albert said.
Trinity Albert, Catherine Albert’s daughter and an eighth grade student at Yale Jr. High School, said she was scared and anxious when her teachers told her the school was on Lockdown.
Trinity said she had a small panic attack, but her friends helped her. She feared for her safety and worried about her mom, who she couldn’t contact because she left her cell phone in her locker.
“I had thoughts of, ‘am I going to be ok,'” she said.
Catherine Albert got some days, it’s hard to get Trinity to go to school because of her anxiety. She knows other parents have anxiety about their kids going to school because of threats of school violence.
Catherine Albert said she is more concerned about her daughter’s mental health than physical safety in the current school climate, as she said the school does a good job of keeping kids safe. A mental health professional for five years, both she and her daughter see themselves as Advocates for mental health awareness and learning healthy coping mechanisms.
The Alberts ‘struggle is not alone as school officials and mental health professionals said students’ mental health has suffered as they navigate returning from the COVID-19 Pandemic and a rash of threats of school violence in recent months.
‘A very insidious problem’
School and mental health officials said there has been an increase in students expressing mental health issues than before the COVID-19 Pandemic.
St. Clair County Community Mental Health CEO Debra Johnson said the agency saw a 63% increase in children who completed intakes for their services in one fiscal year quarter that ran from October through December 2021, as compared to the previous fiscal quarter between July and September 2021.
Johnson said the increase could be due to a greater general awareness and acceptance of mental health and mental treatment than in the past, especially among young people. The agency is also able to serve more people since it began taking private insurance under its certified community behavioral health Clinic status in May 2019.
Johnson also said some students have also had a lot of anxiety about going to school due to threats or actual school violence, such as the Oxford High School shooting on Nov. 30 that left four students dead and several injured.
St. Clair County Sheriff Mat King said the department has seen an increase in school threats in the county in recent months, including from school districts outside its jurisdiction.
While it’s hard to know the exact reasons for the increase, it’s possible students are copying other threats they see in the news or on social media. The department usually sees an uptick in threats after an event, such as the Oxford Massacre, which produced a rash of threats across the county, King said.
Andrea Taube, a school therapist for the Marysville High School wellness center, said when the kids safety feels threatened, whether that be from the disruptions from the COVID-19 Pandemic or school threats at their school, it impacts their ability to function.
As a result, many students might experience a lack of motivation, a lack of goal-setting, anxiety or depression.
“There are many, many students who feel unsafe at school and I think a lot of them know there is really no guarantee to their safety while they’re there. So it really comes down to each individual student’s ability to cope and manage that stress with that reality, “Taube said. “I’ve met many students who deal with anxiety directly related to school violence and the potential for school violence. I think it’s been a very insidious problem.”
Taube said some students might come to school thinking of the exit routes if school violence were to happen. Others might take mental health days away from school or have panic attacks in the bathroom.
“When you ignite that anxiety response, when you’re worried about, whether it’s Grandma in the hospital with COVID, or you’re worried about the kid in the hallway who looks a little off and maybe it’s going to be him Someday, that sense of being threatened, you don’t function so well then on your Biology test, “Taube said. “You don’t do so well at managing your routines. All of that is impacted by, I guess really it’s a loss of a sense of safety.”
Threats hit close to home
While Trinity Albert said she has experienced general anxiety and anxiety around school violence for several years, the Oxford school shooting triggered her anxiety.
“(It) felt very close to home,” she said.
Taube said she also sawn an influx of students after the shooting. Such a geographically close event made it all the more real for students.
Marysville High School has also seen three school threats this month. Student were released early on March 11, and the school went into Lockdown on March 16 and 23 after threats were found written on a bathroom stall.
Marysville High School principal Erin Schweihofer has seen in real time the physical and emotional effects of the lockdowns on students. She said some students might be unable to sit down or relax, have a lot of questions or have trouble breathing.
Face-to-face communication with students and giving them the chance to ask questions has a calming effect, Schweihofer said. She goes on the PA system to give students reassuring messages and empowers teachers to have conversations with their students.
A shift in education
Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, there has been a shift across the country among educators to address students’ mental health needs by focusing on the whole student, rather than just their academic learning. Professional development at Marysville in the past couple of years has taught teachers and staff how to be better aware of students’ mental health needs and respond to red flags, Schweihofer said.
“Across the Nation, you’ll find a lot of dialogue and research done on what’s called a trauma-informed approach and a whole child approach. And that means you’re basically understanding that students have been under a lot of toxic stress,” Schweihofer said. “Basically in order for (students) to be successful in school, you have to address that first.”
Yale Superintendent Kurt Sutton also pointed to the relationships among students, teachers, staff, counselors and social workers to create a school environment where students feel safe coming to an adult with their concerns.
“We just make sure they know we’re available if needed, if someone is having a difficult time,” Sutton said. “All of these things are built on relationships. If the kids feel they can speak to a trusted adult they will.”
Marysville Superintendent Shawn Wightman said the high school’s wellness center addresses students ‘mental health, which was opened in late 2020. One nurse and one social worker address students’ physical and mental health needs and can provide referrals to Community Mental Health as needed.
Johnson and St. Clair County Community Mental Health program manager Kathleen Gallagher said they saw the increase in child intake as a good thing because it means more people are open to seeking mental health treatment when needed.
They emphasized their services for any student that is struggling, which include outpatient services, home-based services, family support and a wraparound program. The agency also provides school-based services at Yale, Marysville and Capac school districts.
Johnson said the agency also has conversations with the St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency and the county health department to ensure every school has the resources they need.
There are several resources in the community for those that need mental health help:
- Learn about St. Clair County Community Mental Health’s services at scccmh.org/.
- For 24/7 access to mental health services, call (888) 225-4447.
- For the St. Clair County Mobile Crisis Unit, call (810) 966-2575.
Call Laura Fitzgerald at (810) 941-7072 or email@example.com.