As our blog last week informed you, this is America’s Safe Schools Week. NEA HIN continues to offer our Crisis Guide and guidance for talking to students about traumatic events. Today, our thoughts and prayers go to the community of Sparks, Nevada, and we share the statement by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and Nevada State Education Association President Ruben Murillo, Jr.
Today, the President and Vice President host a National Conference on Mental Health. While millions of Americans struggle with mental health problems, those who need help are too often afraid to seek it because of the shame and secrecy associated with mental illness. The conference will bring together people from across the country, including mental health advocates, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, and individuals who have struggled with mental health problems, to discuss how we can all work together to reduce stigma, and help the millions of Americans struggling with mental health problems recognize the importance of reaching out for assistance.
Learn More about Ways to Support Your Students and Their Families
- Find how to assess mental health needs in your school and develop and implement a school-based mental health program .
- Find tips for talking to children and youth after a disaster or traumatic event (PDF – 796 KB).
May is Mental Health month and NEA HIN knows that many educators are experiencing high levels of stress. In 2012, NEA members asked NEA HIN produce new resources on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and educators. These new resources are now available.
While schools are generally safe places for students and staff, we know they are not immune to violence, tragedy, and loss. School staff are often in the position of first responder when it comes to helping students. More than 75% of us will experiences one or more traumatic events in our lifetimes and will likely experience stress symptoms as a result. This is normal and we human beings have an amazing capacity for resilience. Most of us will get better.
Some people will develop acute stress disorder, which has symptoms that are similar to PTSD. The big difference is that these symptoms get better over time. When this normal response continues over a month or does not go away then the problem may be PTSD. Only about 10% of people who experience a trauma will develop PTSD and with help most of those will get better as well.
Resilience is the amazing human ability to cope with stress and can be built Schools play a big role in helping students build resilience through positive connections. Adults can also build resilience through positive connections as well as other strategies for self care. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but the flight attendant is right. Put your own mask on first!
So as we come to the end of Mental Health Month, take a few minutes to take care of yourself. Tell us how you manage stress and build resilience.
Please note that April is the “Month of the Military Child* Read on for a guest blog from Federal Education Association President Michael Priser and find resource links at the bottom of his blog.
When we think of words like “resilience” and “courage” we often think of the men and women of our armed forces, who demonstrate these qualities daily in their efforts to keep us safe.
But – I can tell you from years of experience – those same qualities run in their families, especially in the children of military personnel. At an early age, these children learn more about sacrifice and perseverance than most of us will ever know, and it is for that reason we honor them each April during the Month of the Military Child.
As a school psychologist in Department of Defense schools for over 20 years, I’ve seen military children deal with every imaginable situation.
Whether it’s the pain of separation that comes with a parent being deployed, the anxiety of worrying for an absent parent, or the horrible realization of fears with news that a parent has been killed, virtually every child of military personnel has faced such situations or has a close friend who has done so.
Even the strongest of adults could be overcome by any of these stresses, let alone a school age child. But time and again I have seen military children bravely face these fears and many more. With strength of character that can and should be called “heroic,” these children put aside their fears when they can, and confront them when they must, to carry on with their lives as students (and all the stresses, fears and anxieties that go along with that role).
These children bravely accept the sacrifice of lost time with their military parents, whose duty may send them to the other side of the world for months at a time. Even braver, they accept the silent but ever-present realization that runs throughout the military community that such a separation could become permanent with no warning.
The courage of these children does not go unrecognized. Their parents, of course, know and love them for it; we educators who work with them daily marvel at their ability to remain “normal” kids through all of it; and the children themselves are bound together forever in the solemn and unspoken sense of honor and sacrifice that comes with being a “military brat” – a term coined long ago amongst themselves and still worn with pride.
We must never forget and always honor the courage and sacrifice of our military personnel, their families and especially their children. April, as the Month of the Military Child, gives us a formal opportunity to do so, but it is a duty the rest of us carry throughout the year.
*In 1986 the U. S. Army began the "Month of the Military Child" (MOMC). Now MOMC includes military youth of all branches. During April, designated as the Month of the Military Child, military children are applauded for the daily sacrifices they make and the challenges they overcome by being a part of a military family. The Department of Education, the Department of Defense, the entire federal government and all sectors of our communities are asked to honor military children by providing a variety of resources, programs and opportunities to show their support.
There are numerous ways that schools and communities can honor military-connected students during the Month of the Military Child. The Department of Defense Education Activity’s (DoDEA) has resources that can be found at their website including the:
- Students at the Center guidebook; This Web site outlines the important policies, procedures, and best practices that will enable military families, military leaders, and school leaders to provide military-connected children the best possible support for success
- The DoDEA Grant Program; grants for research-based programs that aim to increase student achievement and ease the challenges that military children face due their parents military service.
- Special Education Professional Development Summer Seminars; The Educational Partnership Program, through a contract with Cambium Learning Group, has provided special education professional development for over 700 educators and administrators at LEAs serving military-connected students through nine face-to-face training opportunities around the country.
- School Liaison Program; A General description of School Liaison Program for military-connected local education agencies and school liaison(s) at each military location.
- Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children; These resources will help military-connected students with transition issues addressed by the Interstate Compact< > and other concerns.
Source: U.S. Department of Education
This year, for the first time in many years, we are hosting the family at our house for the holidays. This has me thinking about how to help children and adults stay healthy and not too stressed through the holidays.
So here are my tips for enjoying the upcoming holidays (these also work for any holiday that has food at its center).
- Start by making sure to get some activity in your day. Whether you are a casual stroller or a high intensity runner, make sure that even the busiest of days has some time built in to be active. This can be a great time to dust off that Wii tennis game or to plan a family flag football game. Join your children in something fun and physical.
- Drink lots of water. It fills you up and has the added benefit of keeping your skin moist.
- Keep healthy snacks around. I love vegetables and even in the winter find that if I can snack on raw broccoli or pepper strips I can get some of the “crunch” factor of chips etc.
- Don't forget the lean protein. Protein can help to fill you up.
- Low-fat or non-fat dairy products such as skim milk or non-fat yogurt offer the added benefit of calcium for strong bones.
- Ask yourself if you really want something. Holiday buffets are particularly dangerous because there is so much choice. Monitor what children select and insist that they have fruits or vegetables.
- Make it and serve it yourself. You can control the ingredients and the portion size. Help children understand how a 4 ounce portion looks different when compared to an 8 ounce portion.
- Ask is this hunger or boredom (or stress, or anxiety)? If it is hunger, what's the best choice you can make? If it isn't, what else can you do?
- Enjoy what you eat. Slow down your chewing and savor the tastes.
- Reflect on the things you and your family have to be thankful for. This has been a hard year for many of us, so taking time to think about what we have can help to take the edge off that stressful moment.
Please let us know on Facebookk what works for you.
Caffeine is a stimulant; it makes us more alert and can give a sometimes much-needed boost of energy. But too much caffeine can also cause unpleasant effects that may be more serious in some people. Healthy adults can probably manage 200-400 mg of caffeine a day safely. That is the equivalent of 2 to 4 cups of coffee. Some people may be more sensitive to caffeine than others. Pregnant and nursing women should limit their caffeine consumption. Some medications may interact with caffeine so check with your doctor or pharmacist about any medications you are taking.
Caffeine is an addictive substance. This means that your body will develop tolerance and you may find that you need to raise the amount of caffeine you drink to achieve the same levels of alertness or energy. Because caffeine is a stimulant, people who consume more than 400 mg a day may find that they develop a range of symptoms including:
- Stomach upset
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
These symptoms can be reversed if you reduce your caffeine consumption. But remember, because caffeine is addictive you may want to cut back slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. Too much caffeine can also leave you dehydrated, so it's important to also drink water when consuming caffeinated beverages. If you want to know more about the caffeine levels in your drinks, the Mayo Clinic provides information on the caffeine levels of coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks.
Reprinted from NEA Today, Winter 2012
For many of us, mental health challenges may seem more daunting or more complicated. Mental health issues are often not talked about in the same way, even though many have a strong biological component. In our twenty five years, NEA HIN has tried hard to support NEA members, their families, and their students in responding to mental health challenges. Most recently we posted a new set of resources for mental health screening. These resources were developed in response to a 2011 New Business Item from the NEA Representative Assembly that called on NEA HIN to find and post such resources.
We encourage NEA members who are experiencing mental health challenges to seek out help. And let us know what other resources you would like to see us provide.
So, you have now memorized the signs and symptoms of possible heart attacks and strokes as they were outlined in my last two postings, correct? Good. (If not, feel free to go back and check them out.) Now, we can move on to talk about another topic that’s a lot more fun to think about and discuss. That would be stress. I know, I know. Only a few scattered folks involved in the field of education experience stress, so why should I focus on it? Well, perhaps you are one of the scattered folks. So, here we go.
When I graduated from high school in Miami, lo, those many years ago, one of the activities of the senior class was to produce a booklet of predictions about how the lives of a group of graduating seniors were going to turn out. This was no popularity contest—the top 10% of the class were the ones included in the booklet. I graduated 75th out of a class of 750 (big school, back in the day), so I squeaked into the booklet. I guess I felt pretty good about that, and as long as I can squeak into heaven the same way, I’ll feel good about that, too.
Anyway, the prediction about me was that I was going to be a writer. Huh. During my career, a lot of my time has been spent writing grant proposals, and, while I have not yet achieved great public fame as a result, I guess the prediction was pretty much on target. And at least I THINK about writing books, and have developed a long list of possible titles over the years. In fact, I’m really good at writing titles, and maybe one day the books will follow. But for now, I just keep writing titles and try to find things to attach them to. As a result, a couple of years ago I came up with a title for what has become a very popular NEA HIN workshop. It’s called “Kill Stress before It Kills You.”
Now, I don’t give the workshop, mind you. My colleague, Nora Howley, does that, and exceedingly well, I might add. In fact, if you see the workshop being offered at one of the Regionals or other meetings that you are attending, you would be well-served to sign up for it. Nora covers topics like what stress is, what happens when you experience it, ongoing causes of stress and what they can do to your body, etc. In my next posting, I will go into a little more depth about this issue, since it really does affect more than a few of us. And if we don’t take steps to harness the effects of stress, we can actually shorten our lives. I need to work on this, too, otherwise, my epitaph will read “She Wrote Great Titles, but the Books Never Followed.” Stay tuned.
P.S. If you have any questions about writing grant proposals, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to the topic in a future post.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere this is the time of the year when the days are at their shortest. And while many of us experience a change in mood tied to the shorter days and colder weather for some people, this time of year is one of profound unhappiness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) “is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression – usually in late fall and winter – alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year.” SAD usually starts in October or November and people who experience it often don't feel better until spring. (It should be noted that some people have “reverse SAD” and experience symptoms in the spring and summer.)
Like other forms of depression, SAD, is more common in women than in men. It also is more common (not surprisingly) in parts of the world that have long winter nights. The symptoms are also similar to other forms of depression. There is no specific test for SAD so your health care provider will ask about your history of symptoms, particularly if they vary with the time of year. Treatment will be the same as other types of depression. It is important if you experience SAD to be exposed to light. This can involve being outside during daylight hours and light therapy. More information about SAD and therapy (including the risks and benefits of light therapy can be found here.
What to say about holiday stress…everyone writes about it and everyone seems to suffer from it. As with other sources of stress, holidays can be both positive (family, friends, vacation) or negative (family, money worries, unrealistic expectations). For most of us, it's a little of both.
Much of our holiday stress is the disconnect between our expectations and our realities. Part of preventing the stress melt-down is to set realistic expectations for yourself and for others. Often at the holidays we try to create an idealized version of our family and friends. We look to our memories of childhood or to the childhood we wish we had. But that is probably unachievable. One of my most vivid childhood winter holidays (the one for years, I held all holidays up to) was the one where I was running a high fever the night of our gift exchange. No wonder everything seemed sparklier, lighter, and sharper.
So what can we do to minimize the stress? Here are some tips culled from experts around the country.
- Set limits. You can't do it all. Let others know what you can and can't manage. They can figure out if they want to pitch in or let something go.
- Delegate. Children and other family members can and should help.
- Pick and choose (this is related to #1). If something is really important to you (say homemade cookies), decide how much of it you can realistically mange. Maybe you bake only one variety instead of six.
- Acknowledge your feelings. Maybe the holidays don't fill you with cheer. Maybe you have suffered a loss or are unable to travel. Recognize that these feelings are real and are okay.
- Set a budget and stick to it. More money spent does not mean more happiness. If you are having financial concerns, be frank (in an age appropriate way) with children and don't be hard on yourself.
- Plan ahead. Try to set certain times for shopping and other activities. If you can, avoid shopping at the busiest times of the day.
- Make lists. This will help you keep track of what needs to be done. You can also help children make their own lists for the things they are responsible for.
- Take time for yourself. Even a few minutes on your own can be what it takes to rejuvenate yourself.
- Share something with others through donation or volunteering. Giving can make us feel better.
- Don't lose sight of your healthy habits. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and stay hydrated. Exercise is a great stress reliever.
- Seek help if you need it. If you can't shake the stress, feel overwhelmingly sad or frantic, find yourself angry at yourself or others, and/or have thoughts of self harm (or harming someone else) contact a health professiona.
Hello, again! Well, after my first blog went live, I decided to celebrate and go back to Weight Watchers that evening for the first time in months.
I know, I know.
It was a pretty boring way to celebrate an exciting new venture. But I figured that if I am going to add my two cents worth about health issues, I had better get back on track with my own. By the time I got to the meeting I was late and almost didn’t go in. (Making creative excuses about things like that is my specialty.) But I overcame the urge to leave and made it through the door feeling like the Prodigal Daughter. I didn’t weigh in, but at least I got started. Again. I’ll weigh in next time.
Managing my weight has been a life-long struggle for me. People who have been successful in keeping their own weight under control call it a “journey,” but for me, the word “trial” fits much better. Webster’s Dictionary (definition 3) calls a trial a “test of faith, patience, or stamina through subjection to suffering or temptation.” Now, tell me that definition isn’t on the nose as it applies to weight management!
One of the programs NEA HIN is working on is geared toward helping NEA members figure out how to get healthier by being more active and making better food choices. I bet the word “trial” fits a lot of your own efforts to get healthier, as you try to find time during your packed schedules to take the focus off of others and put it on yourselves. So, soon we will have some tools you can use to make it a little easier.
I will keep you posted occasionally on my own progress in getting into better shape, and, hopefully, knowing that the challenge isn’t yours alone will make it a little easier for you to do, too. During the holidays, take a little time to do something nice for yourself. My husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary on December 30th, and we’re heading to Annapolis (where we got married) to pause and figure out how we can make the next 20 years even better. And I promise to keep my eyes on the celebration calories…
More later. Bette