W. MI students discuss how to support their mental health this school year

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — While your kids may be excited about heading back, there’s also stress that comes with it.

Some students say the concerns began as early as the beginning of summer break.

“I freak out about things when I don’t need to and I get anxious about stuff. School is exciting so it’s always on my mind,” Josie Callendar, Grandville High School senior, said.

Her classmate, Aiden Martin, added, “For me, it was at the beginning of August when college applications opened so it made it just all more real that I’m beginning the last year of high school. So, I’m just thinking about high school but I’m worried about what’s going to happen after that.”

Jaziah Cole, 12, will start 7th grade this year. The student-athlete who is also a straight A student has had her own struggles as a middle school student. She’s even witnessed other students get bullied.

Returning to school is not something she’s looking forward to.

“Some families aren’t as fortunate as others and kids like to pick on that and egg that on. I see people like ‘oh if you don’t have these new Jordan’s you can’t sit with us,’” she said. “Certain stuff that’s outside of school sometimes I think about at school. When it just piles up I get really confused.”

It’s problems like this that students say affect their mood and performance. Often, misbehaviors are misunderstood.

“That’s why we have a lot of suspension and stuff because I feel like if the teachers had more patience and realize we have all of this stuff going on out of school and in school then maybe we would do better,” Jaziah said.

Grandville High School has a “Be Nice” program through the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.

Liz Koza, a counselor at the school, says it’s helpful to have a program in place that discusses mental heal and teaches students how to cope.

“It’s a great way to educate students on things they can look for, ways they can help their friends and just provide a community where they’re not alone when they feel certain things,” she said. “If it wasn’t there a lot of kids would have it more off I think” Martin added.

The first day of school for GHS is on Monday. Students will have a half day. The rest of the week will consist of activities to welcome them back to campus.

“I’ve seen in my 18 years of education go from purely academic to we need to create relationships. We need to make sure our students are mentally healthy and physically healthy and then they can learn. In the past five years, there’s been a focus on relationship building with students,” Koza said.

Not all schools have a “Be Nice” program or can afford various types of mental health resources. Koza and other counselors say schools that are tight on a budget can think small.

“At minimum schools can educate kids,” Koza said. “If the entire school had a couple of days or times of awareness to try to let people know that they do offer help that would be helpful,” Martin commented.

Samuel Jones, owner of Wisdom Center Counseling Services agrees, saying that teachers should consider making it part of their lesson plans.

“Don’t be afraid to work with your administrators to be like, ‘Hey, can we bring somebody in? I wanna bring a therapist in or somebody in who’s a school counselor to just come on and talk to my kids for one day out of the calendar week or one day out the month, just to encourage our students.’”

Prioritizing a child’s mental health isn’t just a job for the teachers. Children say parents play a vital role in how they see themselves. They suggest parents and other adult figures try to put less on their kids.

“A lot of parents are like ‘you need to have A’s. You need to succeed in your classes,’ but some kids can’t reach that because it’s not normal for some people,” Callendar said. “By not putting as much pressure on them could help kids succeed and not have much stress or anxiety about school.”

Jones suggests parents check their own mental health, attitudes and expectations first to better support their child.

“We have to look at what’s stressing us as parents, right? Because all those things start to play a role when we’re trying to converse with our, our, our children,” he said. “You might be seeing things from your own experiential lens based (on) what you went through when you were in school or based off of your culture, ethnicity or experience but your kids are different than you. They’re changing. They have different priorities.”

There is also some individual responsibility that’s on the child’s part.

“Just know that comfortability is okay. It’s room for growth. It’s room for opportunity and you know what, there’s also someone on the other side that’s been there and that would love to have a conversation with you, whether it’s a parent, a mentor, or a coach, and/or a therapist like me,” he said.





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