Some kids are genetically predisposed to mental health issues, but many times these issues spur from traumatic events or something negative happening in their lives.
“Kids at the heart and at the core want to please people,” explains Amy Mason, the Principal of Madison County Elementary School. “So if they are not showing us that, why is that? You have to do a little digging underground to find out what it is.”
Amy Mason has been working in education for nearly twenty years and has done a lot of research into children’s mental health. She says it’s not just teens and adults that deal with depression and anxiety. That’s why in Madison County they teach educators to look out for warning signs.
“We see a lot of students that are fighting depression, which sometimes can turn into suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts,” shares Principal Mason.
A few years ago, Madison County Elementary School decided to get a therapist on campus two days a week through a partnership with Wellstone Behavioral Health. But because of the need, the therapist is now on campus five days a week.
“We discovered that we had a lot of students that had needs that maybe were not being identified,” says Amy Mason. “So we have done a really good job of communicating with parents and referring students to therapy.”
Some teachers actually have “Feeling Buddies” that can help the young kids identify what they are feeling and why they feel that way. Then they can learn how to handle these emotions in a healthy way.
“Figure out, okay, when I’m frustrated what can I do to make myself feel better? That might be breathing, that might be just going off to a calm down corner,” says Principal Mason.
Most classrooms at Madison County Elementary have a “Calm Down Corner” where kids can go if they are feeling overwhelmed. But Amy Mason says sometimes a child may need more than more than just someone to talk to, and might need medication, and that’s okay.
“If they had an ear infection, you would give them antibiotics, it is no different. I think as a community we are seeing that these mental health needs, they are a hidden illness, but they are true and real, and we need to aknowledge them and then help students have those needs met,” says Amy Mason of children taking medicine for mental issues.
She says the traumatic events causing kids to have mental health issues need to be addressed as early as possible, because these will turn into much bigger issues when they are adults. She says early intervention is key.
“Children, there is hope for them,” smiles Amy Mason. “They are adaptable, we can teach them, we can mold them. And educators, that is why they go into the classroom, because they want to change lives.”
Principal Amy Mason says this is a nationwide problem. That is why this summer she will be speaking about children’s mental health at the National Principal’s Conference.
To read an article Principal Mason published about this topic, just click here.