By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director
As we turn the calendar from February to March and enter a period typically not interrupted by holidays and vacations, it is the ideal time to continue your professional development. CASDA has many options for you to consider, so check out CASDA’s website for a listing of workshops and roundtables, or consider having CASDA’s expert faculty work directly with your school during a March Superintendent’s Conference Day.
In this month's edition of CASDA’s newsletter we explore the topic of mental health and wellness and offer some resources to help you determine how best to meet the mental health needs of your students and their families. The Hanover Research Brief, “Establishing Partnerships to Support Student Wellness,” offers research-based findings to assist in your work. Establishing community partnerships and school-based health centers are two approaches that can result in positive outcomes for students and families. In terms of school-based health centers, we provide an example from our local region with an in-depth look at Hadley Luzerne Student Health, a school-based health center. Recognizing that the mental and emotional well-being of educators is critically important, I hope you enjoy a brief six-minute deep breathing and meditation video created by CASDA faculty member Brian Farr, who has facilitated a number of self-care workshops for educators over the past two years. Finally, for your listening pleasure in the coming weeks, we will explore the importance of community partnerships in supporting students and families with their mental health and wellness needs in a podcast with staff from the Mental Health Association in New York States, Inc. (MHANYS).
On a personal note, my family is no stranger to mental illness, there is a long history of family members with formal diagnoses. I recall in my childhood how my grandmother lived with us, because she was unable to care for herself. The story goes back into my mother’s childhood, as she and her four siblings were placed in foster care, because of allegations of neglect related to my grandmother’s mental illness. In fact, my mother dropped out of school in eighth grade to care for my grandmother and assist my grandfather who worked long hours in a factory.
In my teen years, my sister was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. As a family we struggled to support her as she fought to find balance and stability in her everyday life. There were good days and bad days, but every day felt like we were walking on eggshells, waiting. Seemingly insignificant comments could throw the entire household into a tailspin with screaming, throwing of objects or worse deafening silence, that on several occasions culminated in suicide attempts. I am sure it was a living hell for my sister, and I know she wanted her life to be different. Through my teenage perspective, it was the constant uncertainty that made focusing on schoolwork nearly impossible most days. My brother, who was three years older than me, “escaped” at age 17 when he graduated from high school and immediately departed for Florida to pursue work.
Schools were not equipped back in the 1970s to support individual students or their families regarding a disease that people were ashamed to speak about openly. As a family, we were on our own and did the best we could to cope, far too often the norm of the time. I eventually graduated from high school, attended college and was fortunate to have a long career as an educator. Sadly, over the years, my sister’s mental illness continued to impact the family and tragically was the cause of her death at age 58. As you might have ascertained, her life still impacts me to this day.
Mental illness and wellness continue to be a significant concern for students and families. Overall, schools are better staffed to address these needs than they were in the past. Yet, as research indicates, the ability of schools to effectively provide mental health services is limited (Villarreal & Villarreal, 2016, p.108). This is a result of several factors including school-based practitioners not feeling adequately prepared to assist with the complexity of needs and that these needs require interventions best provided by outside agencies. Still, as Villarreal and Villarreal (2016) note, “… schools appear to be the primary site of mental health service receipt among youth in the United States.” As a result, the authors assert, “To provide effective and comprehensive mental health services, it may be necessary to involve and collaborate with non-school-based community mental health providers (CMHP).” (Villarreal & Villarreal, 2016, p.109)
We hope the links to resources we provide in this newsletter will be helpful to your work and as always, CASDA is available to provide additional assistance with any of your educational needs.