This school year is bringing on challenges like no other. As a result of the pandemic, schools throughout the country are wrestling with at-home learning, traditional in-school learning, or a hybrid of the two. And everyone is wrestling with worry and uncertainty. At MHA, we have been monitoring the effects of the pandemic. Here are some things we have learned:
• Young people are experiencing more anxiety and depression related to the pandemic than any other age group.
• Students of color are at particular risk, both because of historic racial inequities and because so many of the realities of racism have come to the surface during the summer months.
• Many young people are also experiencing symptoms of other serious mental health conditions, including psychosis.
• Students with symptoms of depression are reporting frequent thoughts of self-harm.
Mental Health America (MHA) has developed its 2020 Back to School Toolkit with this and more in mind to help students, parents, and school personnel navigate the uncharted waters of COVID-19. Check out the full toolkit here : 2020 Back to School Toolkit
Trauma-Informed School Strategies during COVID-19
The uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged school systems, especially educators, staff, and administrators, to transform the ways that they connect with, teach, and support students and families. These changes also offer school systems the opportunity to build on the relationships they have formed with each other and with their students and families. It is possible within this move to largely virtual learning for schools to build resilience and coping skills, provide a much needed sense of safety and routine, and connect with families who might otherwise be isolated and overwhelmed. This page uses the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s (NCTSN) “Creating, Supporting and Sustaining Trauma-Informed Schools: A System Framework,” to consider how, in the time of COVID-19, schools can adapt or transform their practices by using a trauma-informed approach to help children feel safe, supported, and ready to learn.
Why a Trauma-Informed Approach during the COVID-19 Crisis?
For most students, educators, staff, and school administrators, COVID-19 raises concerns related to danger, safety, and the need for protection. For some, this danger is added to preexisting trauma, adversity, and disparities. For others, the pandemic brings new grief, loss, and trauma, which may include increased risk for violence and abuse in the home. Many families will experience secondary adversities related to their isolation, economic hardship, and unmet basic needs. A trauma-informed approach is essential to help school communities feel safe and supported during times of danger and adversity. This approach is needed so that students can learn, educators can teach, and staff and administrators can connect and provide needed structure. Using this approach will assure parents and caregivers that the school community is strengthening their child’s well-being, thereby allowing families to reinforce the importance of learning.
What Does It Mean to Be “Trauma-Informed?”
The NCTSN defines a trauma-informed system, such as a school, as one where all parties involved recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on those who have contact with the system including children, caregivers, staff and service providers. Educators, staff and administrators infuse and sustain trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills into their school climate, programs and classrooms. They collaborate with all those who are involved with the child, using the best available scientific evidence, to maximize physical and psychological safety, facilitate the recovery or adjustment of the child and family, and support their ability to learn and to thrive.
Trauma-Informed Strategies for Educators, Staff, and Administrators during COVID-19
Here we use the framework to outline specific guidance for how schools can use a trauma-informed approach while responding to the needs of their students, families and staff during this COVID-19 crisis. The framework presents 10 Core Areas of a trauma-informed school system:
- The Physical and Emotional Well-Being of Staff
- Creating a Trauma-Informed Learning Environment
- Identifying and Assessing Traumatic Stress
- Addressing and Treating Traumatic Stress
- Trauma Education and Awareness
- Partnerships with Student and Families
- Cultural Responsiveness
- Emergency Management/Crisis Response
- School Discipline Policies and Practices
Educators: Protecting Your Mental Health
According to several studies and reports, teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the country. The American Federation of Teachers’ 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey found that 61 percent of teachers said their jobs were always or often stressful—more than double the rate of non-teaching working adults—and 58 percent said they had poor mental health due to stress levels.That was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and since then, the transition to online learning, debates over reopening, and individual safety concerns are making teachers’ mental health worse. If you’re feeling tired and disengaged, there’s a good chance it’s related to trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and/or “battle fatigue.” Teachers are often focused on taking care of and supporting others, but without prioritizing your wellbeing, those stress levels won’t lift. Your mental health isn’t only important to you—teacher wellness is also linked to stability in schools and student achievement. Check out the ways to help yourself and other educators during stressful time -> Educators: Protecting Your Mental Health