Most of Brookfield’s school employees are neither guidance counselors nor social workers.
Yet, with a district-wide goal of keeping kids safe, no one should ignore the warning signs of trouble, said school Superintendent Velina Jo Taylor.
“We wear many hats, whether we want to or not,” she said April 24 at a joint training session on mental health with all district employees and members of Brookfield police.
Two community psychiatric support treatment counselors from Greentree Counseling Center Inc., Warren, talked about the common mental health issues in young people – anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and anorexia – and their warning signs.
Children with such disorders can act up or withdraw, skip school a lot, disrupt the learning of their classmates and cause in-school incidents, said Greentree’s Paul Daugherty. Brookfield Police Chief Dan Faustino said a lot of violent incidents in school are “attached to mental health.”
Many kids are not treated because they don’t feel their problem is big enough or they don’t want the stigma associated with it, but they often turn to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, Daugherty said.
Failing to address these issues can have dire consequences. Daugherty said suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 12 to 18 – the suicide rate in Ohio is above the national average – and anorexia has the highest mortality rate for people with mental health issues.
One of the big takeaways from the session was that school and police officials must communicate more about what is going on in the school and in the community that can impact young people, and school employees need to talk more about what they are seeing.
Daugherty said children react differently in different environments. A child with an issue may do fine in the classroom, but have a problem on the bus or in the lunch line.
“Everybody is going to see things,” he said. “If you have an issue, bring it up.”
Cpl. Scott Thompson, who often works the afternoon shift, said a lot of his calls relate to something that occurred in school, and he would like to be made aware of school incidents.
By the same token, Police Chief Dan Faustino said police need to report to school officials if police go on a call to a violent or drug-related act in which a child is present, because it might have repercussions on that child’s behavior in school.
“I see the value of making the school aware of this,” he said.
Elementary Principal Stacy Filicky said her school has a problem with drug use at home by parents, and the students come to think it’s OK.
Daugherty said children will “normalize” what they see and it is up to school employees to present a different example, that drug use is not normal, that communication between people can be healthy and that school is a safe environment.
However, if kids do act up, don’t label them as “bad,” he said.
“Yeah, you’ve made some bad choices, but we all make bad choices,” he said.
A teacher noted that the school is coming up on the one-year anniversary of a student who committed suicide and asked if teachers should note that occasion in some way. Daugherty encouraged teachers to talk to students in healthy ways.
“It’s OK to talk about how somebody is struggling,” he said. “Let them know it’s horrible and it hurts, and you’re not the only one that’s hurting.”
Taylor said that, at this time of year, it’s easy for teachers and other staff members to grow weary of students who act up, but said that such behaviors are signs of something that might be addressed in a positive way.
“You could be the one that saves somebody,” she said.