online mental health therapy

Do Schools Alleviate Mental Illness or Are They Part of the Problem?

Mental Illness Among Adolescents is Going Off the Charts

It is no secret that declining mental health is rapidly becoming a public health crisis. It is estimated that by 2020, substance use disorders and mental illness will become the primary cause of disability around the world, surpassing physical diseases.

The mantra of the public health establishment is that the impending mental health crisis can be solved by expanding resources and increasing funding for increased for “public behavioral health services.” The answer is new treatment centers, more mental health care practitioners, and broadening the scale of community intervention.

Pharmaceutical companies have their take. They pour marketing dollars into a perpetual campaign designed to convince parents and mental health workers that anxiety, depression, and trauma are biochemical disorders and can be treated pharmacologically.

However, every doctor knows that The Hippocratic Oath compels him/her before helping the patient, care must be taken to “first not harm.” If so, perhaps before we capitulate to the public health establishment or pharmaceutical companies, we need to step back, take a deep breath and consider something entirely different.

What if a significant percentage of mental illness among adolescents stems from the child’s or adolescent’s feeling of disconnection from the school community?

How Can We Solve a Problem We Don’t Even Understand?

The National Institute of Mental Health says it with extreme simplicity. “Mental disorders are the chronic diseases of the young.” And what is the source of the problem? In analyzing data from a study of over 35,000 teens, The Center for Disease Control found that more than anything else “school disconnectedness” to be the primary culprit.

Alternatively, school connectedness was found to be the most effective antidote to protect youth from school absenteeism, promiscuity, substance abuse, and violence. What’s more, after family connectedness, school connectedness was found to be the second most crucial protector against eating disorders, emotional stress, and suicide.

Generally speaking, a child’s or adolescent’s school and related social experience become the most accurate predictors of their moods for years to come. Those students fortunate enough to feel connected to their school experience and everything about it will less likely choose risky behaviors later on.

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What is School Connectedness?

School connectedness includes the following components of the school experience:

  • I feel safe and secure in this school
  • My teachers treat me with respect and are fair with me
  • I am happy that I attend this school
  • I feel like I belong in this school and feel a part of it
  • I feel close to both adults and children at this school

So how common is it for a kid to feel connected to his/her school? A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of those asked felt “connected” to the school. What a catastrophe!

A possible reason that something so blatantly obvious is not even being considered is that academic research is being conducted by those who did feel connected which explains why they continued to formal education. Building upon their successful school experience, they became the experts who decide how a school should look!

The Only Real Answer

Based upon all of this depressing data, one must conclude that reforming education is the only real solution we have to address the mental health epidemic. Either we do something about the schools, or we may have to accept that an increasing segment of our kids will be depressed, become alienated, abuse alcohol and drugs, and commit suicide!

We must create schools that integrate academic performance with emotional health. This means smaller classes, one-on-one attention, teacher familiarity, and above all, fostering a sense of belonging. The objective of school needs to be transformed from centers of knowledge and academic development to centers of human evolution.

The focus needs to shift from cutting edge technologies and pedagogies to forging incubators of child and teen subcultures that will provide the foundation and guidance to a life of well-being and happiness. It is not that schools are causing mental illness, but in their current form, they are indeed standing in the way of mental health!

rural schools advantage

Sometimes Big Things Come in Small Packages: Rural Schools Advantages

We are so brainwashed that bigger is better that most of us rarely challenge the conventional wisdom. Indeed, when it comes to your financial portfolio, it's difficult to argue - bigger is better! However, when it comes to the education of our dear children, what’s better about bigger? It may be a well-kept secret that rural schools, due to their limited size, are actually better than their bigger urban counterparts!

1. Teachers have greater liberty to modify and accommodate individual needs

Tailoring education to meet individuals assists students who are challenged, and it encourages everyone to aspire to higher expectations. Smaller classes allow teachers to concentrate on their students’ strengths and weaknesses thereby enhancing performance and the building of student confidence.

For those students requiring speech, occupational or mental health therapy, the impact can sometimes spell the difference between a child who needs to endure another hour in the school at treatment and a child who walks into the clinical session encouraged and enthused by success in the classroom.

2. Higher levels of teacher satisfaction are reported for small schools

Greater teacher satisfaction means increased teacher retention. Teachers that remain in their jobs throughout the school year enhance consistency for their students. In a recent study, "The Small study Schools: Great Strides" found that teachers in small schools “reported greater satisfaction because they felt more connected to one another…”

However, the benefits of teacher enthusiasm go beyond the teacher. Students gain by becoming more interested and excited about learning, and one teacher’s enthusiasm rubs off on other teachers and staff as well, such as therapists who work with the children. Aside from giving the entire institution more consistency and stability, the atmosphere in the school can be become energized.

3. Small schools enhance social-emotional skills, leadership, and citizenship

It is only natural that students in small towns are more community-minded, which often leads to greater participation in the school. More engagement with the community fosters a more profound sense of responsibility as well. As a result, values such as caring and respect become taught.

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When students feel that they have “more skin in the game” they try harder to make things work and strive for improvement when things don’t. Personal accountability and community service are more commonly found in small schools, which impacts therapy success as well. There is a newfound incentive for the child to solve that speech or mental health problem that may be the hurdle to greater involvement.

4. Children in smaller rural schools are poised for better relationships

Perhaps the most significant advantage is that students in smaller schools are often known and appreciated as a “whole person.”  The small size allows them to develop closer and more meaningful relationships with both teachers and other students. Closeness generates more inclusiveness, safety, and security, often regardless of their differences.

Another benefit of strong relationships between teachers and students is that students feel encouraged to take risks both in the social and academic realms. Risk taking is critical to personal development and success in therapy as well which, often demands that the student goes beyond his/her comfort zone.

Recent research has found that the primary factor in student achievement was reducing the sense of anonymity. Think about it from the child’s perspective: “If I fail who will be there to help me recover?” The support of teachers and other students can’t be underestimated in giving every student - and especially those with challenges requiring therapy - the platform upon which to excel and become everything that child could be!

online speech therapy

Is Your Child Suffering in School? How is Her Language Developing?

Your Amazing Preschooler

When you think about it, it is amazing how children develop speech and language skills in their preschool years with practically no instruction. And then upon entering school, children are expected to utilize their new tools to achieve academic competence and social negotiation- keys to happiness.

Early Development

What most of us don’t realize is that to be successful in spoken language, this young child must develop competence in multiple systems. First, the young learner must create and master a system that represents meaning. Next, they need to acquire a facility for language and its forms.

This facility of language begins with developing an understanding of the structure of words and it gradually morphs into comprehending the grammatical structure of sentences. After all this technical know-how is mastered, these tools must then be joined with social skills.

How does this all happen? Children in the preschool years rhyme words together and break words apart into syllables. This is known as phonological awareness.

As a child learns to read, other skills must be developed too. Those in the field commonly differentiate the two main areas of reading into word recognition and comprehension.

Word recognition is merely knowing how to pronounce a word. Learning to recognize the different letters is the first step. It is soon followed by developing the ability to manipulate different sounds contained in words and finally learning the rules that determine the relationship between letters and their pronunciation.

Reading comprehension, on the other hand, is the ability to interpret the words printed in the text correctly. The skills that are required for this aspect of reading are almost identical to those needed for listening comprehension.  

Where Are the Problems?

Children entering school with poor skills in listening, speaking or phonological processing are prone to problems that may significantly impact their development. These impairments will not only have negative academic consequences but often will lead to behavior and emotional problems also. Research has shown that these children have a higher incidence of sexual assault and victimization as well.

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Understanding the Connection

Two hypotheses have emerged over the years attempting to explain the relationship between speech-language deficits and the problems mentioned above.

One of the hypothesis sees the association between spoken language and the ensuing problems as causal in nature. Some research suggests that language difficulties might cause behavior problems which in turn lead to fewer opportunities for language learning eventually becoming manifest in maladaptive behaviors due to the increasing frustration.  It’s a vicious cycle!

Another possibility suggested is that children suffering language difficulties are vulnerable to problems with self-regulation as well, which often lead to behavioral issues.

Alternatively, other researchers claim that the connection between language and reading problems and behavior problems indicates a common underlying condition responsible for both. This condition has been identified as a neuromaturational delay that results in underachievement in both domains.  

What Needs to be Done

Whatever the explanation of the connection between spoken language skills and subsequent reading and behavior development, the point is that there is a well-documented connection.  That being the case, it is imperative that if we wish to enable every child to succeed both academically and socially, we must address the core problem- building the child’s language skills!

Speech-language pathologists are trained to identify deficiencies that any given child may be suffering. Those with behavioral issues should be a priority given the association between language incompetency and behavior problems. Let’s address the problems while the children are small before these issues mushroom into more severe and complex problems later on!

child anxiety

Why is Child Anxiety on the Rise Despite Improvements in Education?

Unfortunately, anxiety has been on the rise in children in the United States for nearly 60 years. The problem only worsens as the children become high school and college students. According to some estimates, almost six times as many high school and college students have been found with anxiety disorder as compared to 50 years ago.

The question is “Why?”

One might think these changes in children’s mental health are due to wars or world events. However, the data says otherwise. During the Depression, World War II, the Cold War and the turbulence of the '60s, the rates of anxiety and depression among children were significantly lower than they are today.

The truth is that the change is more of a function of the children themselves than what is happening in the world.

Children Feel Less Control Over Their Lives

Research has shown that there is a significant correlation between a person’s sense of lacking control over his/her life and anxiety. People who feel they control their fate and destiny are less prone to suffer anxiety than others who believe that they are victims of circumstances over which they exercise no control.  

While progress has been made over the past 50 years in our ability to prevent and treat diseases and the elimination of many prejudices that limited people's options, the data indicates that children’s belief in control over their destinies has declined sharply over the decades.

Again, the question is “Why?”

Extrinsic Goals are Replacing Intrinsic Goals

Some psychological research has suggested that increases in anxiety are a function of shifting from "intrinsic" to "extrinsic" goals. Intrinsic goals are defined as those relating to personal development—such as developing competency in areas of one's choosing or creating a purposeful or meaningful life philosophy.

On the other hand, extrinsic goals are those connected to another’s judgment or material reward such as becoming wealthy, beautiful external appearance or achieving high status. Evidence suggests that young people today are less oriented toward intrinsic goals and more oriented toward extrinsic goals than previously.

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People have less control in attaining extrinsic goals than achieving natural ones. While effort can improve competence, it can’t guarantee wealth. Through philosophy or spirituality, one can find meaning in life, but that doesn't assure becoming more attractive to other people.

Emotional satisfaction is outsourced in seeking extrinsic goals and therefore beyond a person’s control.

The Decline of Free Play Contributes to Less Sense of Control and Rising Anxiety

However, perhaps the most critical factor of the increase in child anxiety may be related to the decline in recent decades of children's freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction.

Free play and exploration are how children learn to solve their problems, control their own lives, develop their interests, and become competent. By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, without direct adult supervision and control, children are being robbed of how to learn how to take control of their lives.

We have replaced children’s free play with more school and school supervised activities (adult-directed sports and extracurricular activities). Children today spend more hours, days, and years of their life than ever before. We believe that the well-designed infrastructure that we have built will save them from themselves by controlling them.

But it’s a mistake to think that we are helping children by protecting them. On the contrary, as their uninhibited play diminishes, so does their joy and sense of self-control. By placing blockades in the path of their self-discovery and exploration of their true selves, we increase the odds they will suffer anxiety.

Hours and hours in the classroom teach the children that their own choices and judgments don’t count, but rather those of the teachers. The goal in class for most is not competence (intrinsic goal) but rather good grades (extrinsic goal). The continuous evaluations and testing that only increases in intensity are a perfect recipe for anxiety!

The cost of the belief that children must spend ever-increasing amounts of time in school comes at a high price- our children’s mental health. Given freedom and opportunity, children learn to educate themselves. They do so with joy and simultaneously develop strong intrinsic values and emotional health.