Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across the state, student anxiety and depression were priorities of local school officials.
Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Center Grove schools all either succeeded or attempted to raise property taxes through referendums to fund additional mental health initiatives in 2018 and 2019. Now, school counselors are navigating how to help students who are struggling with mental health issues, but are now also isolated from their educators and peers, too.
One of the biggest roadblocks for counselors has been dealing with students who have anxiety and difficulty coping with any kind of change. Luckily, those students have been in constant contact with counselors using virtual methods such as Google Meet, said Katie Leugers, mental health adviser at Indian Creek schools.
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“It can be scary for some kids, especially the ones that have anxiety,” Leugers said. “You’re safe at home. It can be hard for kids who don’t like change, but it’s the main thing I’m working with them on, keeping them motivated and positive. They’ve been doing better I think, now that they know about eLearning. Teachers are available anytime, and they’re pretty good at reaching out.”
Social isolation can also affect productivity, and counselors, including Leugers, have been contacting students to make sure they stay on track, she said.
“A lot of it’s probably connecting with two or three kids each day who are not turning in things like they used to. We can go over things, tell me what you need to get done. If they are 10 assignments behind, do an extra two assignments, ask them how they’re doing, what they’ve completed. I’ll hold them accountable,” Leugers said.
“They’re already anxious before the day starts, there’s whole lists that need to get done. Right now they see a whole list and it overwhelms them, (so) I tell them to take a break. Do two this morning, two this afternoon. Finding a routine is challenging, but they’ve done very well.”
At Center Grove Community Schools, helping students who are struggling with anxiety or depression often involves collaboration, said Heather Fosnaugh, director of mental health and school counseling.
“I think we’re seeing things everyone across the nation and the world is; there’s an increase in anxiety and depression,” Fosnaugh said. “Also, the risk factors that were there prior to closure haven’t gone away. We’re making sure we’re addressing those. (School resource officers) have done well checks, and student services coordinators and counselors are checking in with students. They collaborate with me when there are risk factors. Students who have depression or anxiety, who are at risk of self-harm or suicide. We’re providing support.”
If a student who was typically on top of their work suddenly ceases contact with their teachers, for example, a school resource officer would visit a students’ home and make sure they are safe. If there are concerns of abuse or neglect in a home, school officials will file a report with the Indiana Department of Child Services, which will assess the situation, she said.
Connecting students with outside resources, including counseling agencies such as Adult and Child, can help provide an extra line of defense between students who have mental health issues and mental health deterioration, said Lisa Laug, guidance counselor and college and career director at Greenwood Community Schools.
“We have a certain population of students struggling with anxiety and stress on a regular basis. But for some students, being at home has actually been enjoyable for them. Some are enjoying eLearning, and at the other end, there are students who feel isolated or are struggling with mental health,” Laug said.
“The ones who are struggling, we’re talking to them and their families about resources. Mental health agencies are still working and assisting people … connecting through video for services. We’re helping them access those agencies.”