Though for many, it may not seem as though society is progressing (and, frankly, we are regressing in some senses), it is good to see how much importance is being placed on mental health nowadays. Thinking about it, not even ten years ago were we all as open to talking about mental health issues. However, people are finally understanding that mental health is as important as physical health.
Due to this, more resources are being created to complement the need to care for mental health needs.
Such resources include online forums, teletherapy, and even text messaging services, such as the Crisis Text Line, which provides 24/7 mental health support via text message.
Mental Health Toolkit Provided by the Crisis Text Line
In fact, their scope of expertise is extending its efforts to schools as they recently launched free Mental Health School Supplies toolkits for students, parents, and teachers.
The toolkit features step-by-step tools to create a mental health crisis plan – should it ever get to that point – with family and friends. It also has interactive coping tools, videos with ways of grounding and breathing techniques, and other resources students can use at any moment of crisis.
Taking a look at the mental health crisis as a whole
A crisis can be determined by several factors. Eating disorders and grief were the fastest-growing issues among teen texters. Still, thoughts of suicide and feelings of isolation and loneliness remain alarmingly high.
“We know that our young texters are texting in about loneliness and isolation,” Dr. Shairi Turner, who is Crisis Text Line’s Chief Health Officer, a Harvard-trained pediatrician, and former Chief Medical Director of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, told BELatina News recently.
Also, conversations about anxiety and stress reached an all-time high among teen texters in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, appearing in more than one in three conversations, as did depression, sadness, and relationships.
As much as mental health is being talked about, it remains a taboo subject for many Latine families to this day.
But there’s no room for ignorance when it comes to this subject. At least not any longer considering that the suicide rate in the United States is the highest among the developed nations. The data is more shocking for Latina teens, where it found that Latinas and Hispanic teens, from grades 9-12, had a 30 percent higher chance than non-Hispanic white girls in the same age group to attempt suicide.
In our conversation with Dr. Turner, we explored how the mental health school toolkit can help the students and what preventative measures, such as mental health check-ins, can be taken before a crisis, and more.
Below find some tips that can be lifesaving for many families.
What is a mental health check-in?
The importance and significance of the check-in are that the space is created so that parents are listening, active listening, and the child is able to share. That looks like a parent taking a moment when everything is calm and saying: “you’re about to start school, a lot of things can be going on at school, and this is a new grade or a new school.” Followed up with: “I want you to know that I’m here for you. I want to hear it. I’m open to whatever you need to bring to me, and together we can find a solution.” Then, let the child know that at any point you might check in. For example, say, “I’m going to check and see how you’re doing. During the day or during the week, or as the school year progresses.”
If they’ve established that kind of space in the home, the child knows, one, that the question might come, and two, that the parent is open to listening and hearing.
What is something that makes mental health check-ins successful?
The key to this is that after asking questions, the parent is actually open to listening and hearing. Meaning, not always jumping to a solution. Instead, help the child process what’s going on and brainstorm together. I think as parents, we want to fix, we want to solve for our children, but even at young ages, they know what’s going on. They know what they’re experiencing. It’s so important for us to listen to what the child is saying.
What should be done before a mental health check-in?
Well, even before you get to talking about the check-ins, it’s important to acknowledge the existence of mental health issues amongst your children. Some parents feel like, “not my child, my child is fine, my child is doing well.” Or “I’m not able to kind of acknowledge that my child might have mental health issues … it’s too much for me to handle.”
So, a mental health check-in is something that we want to normalize for parents and for teachers when they notice that a child isn’t acting like they usually do.
What is enclosed in the Crisis Text Line’s Free Mental Health School Toolkits and how can you use it to benefit children?
The beauty of the kit is that you can go to the section that applies to you the best – as a parent, as a teacher, as an administrator, and really take that deep dive. You don’t have to cover everything.
You can download the section that is most relevant to who you are in a child’s life. Many of the tips are very similar. There’s an education piece so that people understand we’re in a mental health crisis. That it’s deeply impacting students, their education, their safety, and their future.
The toolkit is in English and Spanish, so there’s not going to be a language barrier. In the kit, in addition to just talking about active listening and being there to support the child, there are actually tangible things. There are grounding exercises, there are breathing videos, there are step-by-step plans to develop coping tools and tips. It also offers suggestions because what works for one child may not be the same thing that helps another child. So, it offers a lot of suggestions and things that any adult, parent, administrator, or teacher can work with and support the child.
How can teachers and school administrators implement the mental health school toolkit in their classrooms?
Teachers are around these children for the better part of every day. So, they are acutely aware of changes in behavior or changes in mood that can indicate that there is a mental health issue or that the child has a concern. A teacher can either utilize some of the tools in the toolkit or direct and guide the parents or the student to the link of the toolkit so that they can download and find tips to help support them.
Why are these resources significant to students?
It’s about teachers, parents, and administrators understanding that they don’t have to be therapists. They don’t have to do the deep therapy or the counseling that might be needed, but rather be with that child and find resources. It’s so important to let that child know that they’re not alone and that there’s someone, an adult, standing by them to help them find support for whatever is troubling them.
What should the adult do if the child needs more help?
Then, it’s important to really ask serious questions. Like, “do you feel like you want to hurt yourself? Do you have thoughts of death and dying?” Those are very difficult questions. As a parent, you may be afraid to ask because you don’t necessarily want to hear the answer. For your child to say, “yes, I’ve been thinking about death and dying,” is hard to hear.
We all carry our own trauma, right? So, some parents feel ill-prepared to hear this because it’s triggering. It can be triggering for their own feelings, their own emotions, and their own mental stability. But sometimes you only get one opportunity to ask that question, and you have to be prepared because a really difficult situation for a child is to share with an adult that they’ve had thoughts of death and dying. If anyone takes anything from this, it is to ask questions about potential harm because it’s important.
What if the child’s response is concerning?
If that child is saying that they have a plan, that they have a way in mind to hurt themselves, consider taking them to the emergency room at that moment and getting immediate support. The parent has to exercise judgment and question how serious it is. But I always say take it as seriously as possible. Kids do not wake up and joke about hurting themselves or hurting someone else.
What else should we know about mental health?
The prevalence of mental illness is not just in the Latino or Latinx community. It’s in the Black community, the Indigenous community, in the white community – and this is pervasive. We are not going to save our children if we think we have to hide mental illness.
The more that parents are able to seek help and support and open that space for their children, the more we can help our children. Parents don’t feel alone, teachers don’t feel alone, and administrators don’t feel alone. Use the free mental health school toolkit. There are resources there and they’ll be able to support these children who are in need.
If someone else is seeking help right now, how else can the Crisis Text Line further assist them?
The Crisis Text Line has a complete Spanish-language service so anyone can text AYUDA to 741741 or 442-AYUDAME on WhatsApp.
There’s an entire service with Spanish-speaking volunteers and mental health professionals. You can also text HOME to 741741 to reach a Crisis Counselor. The services are provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week.