Ask any teenager if they are willing to talk about mindfulness and emotional thermometers with their peers a dozen times in a school year. Most people will refuse this opportunity. But if asked if they want a vaccine to protect against the worst mental health impact of the past year and a half, most people will raise their hands without thinking.
Adolescence is a critical period for mental health, and most adolescents are closely related to stress. Before the epidemic, One in five U.S. teenagers Suffering from a mental disorder, Half of mental disorders occur at the age of 14, and three-quarters occur in their 20s. During the epidemic, Approximately 40,000 children have lost their parentsAnd many young people suffer other traumas, such as food insecurity and homelessness, which increase the risk of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The pandemic may cause a surge in mental health problems among young people and bring long-term psychological effects.
The good news is that for young people, schools are an effective place to prevent mental health problems. School-based interventions can improve students’ ability to regulate emotions in a healthy way, such as actively redefining problems, which have been shown to be effective in preventing or reducing mental health problems.
Our research provides an example: Our team provided a group of 12 prevention programs called RAP (Relax, Attention, and Personal Rating) clubs to eighth graders in 29 public schools in Baltimore. Most schools serve marginalized communities, where poverty limits family prospects and young people are vulnerable to violence and other traumas.
RAP Club includes mindfulness exercises, such as breathing and rest with an “emotional thermometer”, to teach students a non-judgmental awareness of feelings and thoughts. Role-playing provides young people with tools to promote active communication. To demonstrate how the pent-up stress affects the body, the students shook a bottle of soda until the liquid exploded; that has always been my favorite.
Four months later, the evaluation of RAP club students showed that their trauma symptoms were significantly less than those of students who did not participate. Group discussions with RAP club students highlighted other benefits. They talked about improving coping styles. “The way I handle stress is better… the way, the way is better,” a boy said.
Other students also agreed. “When I feel distressed…I used to smoke to get rid of it. Now look…I didn’t do that. ” “When I am angry-I don’t lose my temper to everyone. “
The students saw a change in their self-awareness. “I really used to have negative thoughts about myself and the world… Now I have more confidence. “
They described improved mental health: “The depression disappeared from me…I used to stay in my room, listening to sad, depressing music, and not talking to anyone. RAP club…helped me-I dance more. I’m talking about everything with my mom now… We are very happy, all of this. Our lives have just changed. “
COVID provides an unexpected opportunity for natural experiments. We contacted and evaluated approximately 150 trial participants during the pandemic, one to four years after they completed our programming. It makes sense that young people who did not participate in the RAP club showed more anxiety during the pandemic. We are in an extremely tense period.
However, young people who participated in the RAP club learned how to manage the pressure generated by the pre-pandemic difficulties they faced, and their anxiety did not increase significantly. The plan provides a certain degree of immunity against this new pressure.
When this project started, we did not expect COVID-19 and it disrupted childhood in many ways. However, as we dig deeper, we begin to see the potential of mental health interventions to prevent the negative effects of future trauma exposure.
As the new school year approaches, most policymakers and educators will seek to “tick” and provide some kind of programming or teacher training to acknowledge the emotional damage caused by the pandemic. But these new findings show the urgency of programming further.
Schools need resources to provide evidence-based programs in an ongoing manner to promote and protect students’ mental health. These courses need to be culturally and developmentally appropriate and delivered in a coordinated manner between grades K-12. Although all students should accept general group programming, more intensive services should be provided for those who need additional support. Finally, project evaluation is essential to assess whether the project is effective and who is most suitable for its role. Partnerships with universities can support data collection and analysis. The opinions of students and parents on effective methods must also form solutions.
In coordination with student vaccination efforts, school leaders and policy makers should use the potential of school mental health programs as “mental health vaccines.” As one of our focus group participants pointed out, “When you understand how you feel, you will find peace of mind. This happens, yes.” We have a responsibility to provide our young people with what we can All emotional protection.
This is an opinion and analysis article; opinions expressed Author or author Not necessarily those Scientific american