This month I am truly all over the place, physically and mentally. Thoughts are constantly racing through my mind. We have lost sleep with worry, frustration and anger during the last year and the past month especially has really had me tossing and turning. For me, this manifests as a sense of feeling all over the place. Beyond our distorted vision of humanity, corrupt politics, brutality and the virus that continues to mutate are our children and their mental health. This mess we find ourselves in is difficult to process and articulate as an adult. Imagine how young people feel. Imagine having to witness the past year without fully understanding what is going on. Imagine not being able to go to school, see friends, play with teammates or band mates. Imagine being told that you could be the cause of getting others sick and if you go to school, a designated “safe place” you will get sick. Now imagine trying to process of all of this with an underdeveloped frontal lope, stressed home environments, and an overdose of screen time while disengaged from what is familiar and safe. And if the young person is a challenged learner or has other mental health disorders they are at increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression. We clearly need to confront the threat to the mental health of our children because many are suffering. If this is new information and you believed young people are fine now that they are back to school, I hope you will read on.
To make things clear, sufficient supports were not in place for a large number of children and adolescences experiencing mental health disorders prior to the pandemic. Culturally we don’t like to speak of issues surrounding adult mental health, so children have really been left out of the conversation. Depression, anxiety and other psychotic disorders are tucked away and forced to exist within the mind and body without acknowledgement or treatment. I know first-hand as a mom how difficult it is to receive supports for a child. While in first grade my son was diagnosed with social anxiety. He was labeled socially autistic and believed to be on the spectrum. As a social worker and his mom, I knew the diagnosis and label did not define him. I knew if we allowed it to, it would stay with him through his school years, and he would be forced into a box. Because I could sit at the table and speak the same language his team of social workers and psychologists spoke, he has the supports at school and outside of school that meet his needs, not what sits in a box created for him. Going through the process of discovering my son and his needs taught me an incredible amount. The biggest lesson I learned was each of us, no matter our age, ability or capacity deserves a process of self-discovery in order to heighten our awareness and know who we are, how we best learn and how we can be best supported in our learning and our work.
Four years ago, after learning this lesson I wrote curriculum for a workshop to guide young people through a self-discovery process. I wrote with an incredible amount of purpose because I understood the need for tools and strategies to help support this process. I understand that people need to know more about themselves, what gets them out of bed in the morning and what keeps them going and moving beyond what they thought possible. This is a basic right, this is what creates excitement and joy, this is what allows us to thrive, want better and to be better. This is purpose and without understanding your purpose there is minimal motivation to get out of bed in the morning. I take people on a journey into themselves and guide them to an awareness of their whole self. It’s all about uncovering values and learning about the deep connection between the mind, body and heart. It is not about a diagnosis or false passion or learning to believe in something outside of yourself. It is simply learning to believe in yourself. I believe in our young people and I know many are suffering. They are silently suffering and if one more person tells me they are resilient I am going to scream (I’d really like to dropkick them). Yes, human beings are resilient and yes, our children will get through this, and yes, they need help. They need to be acknowledged and supported more now than ever.
Beginning in April 2020 emergency department visits for young people with mental health related issues increased significantly. Visits for children aged 5-11 increased approximately 24% while children 12-17 increased 34%. Although these numbers can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, they are not being addressed. This is the true crisis. Let’s think about it in basic terms. Last March when stay at home orders were first issued our students had no idea how long they would be away from their school communities. One girl told me she was excited at first because she viewed it as a vacation and would be able to return after the short break. She had no idea she would be away from her school and friends for 13 months. Now back to school, she has an anxiety attack every morning knowing she is going back to school. Her body has absorbed the trauma inflicted upon her when told her school is not safe, her friends could potentially get her sick and she could get her immune compromised father sick. She is processing all this information the best she can, but there is only so much she can make sense of as a 12-year-old.
All students are doing the best they can. Parents, if you have a student athlete at home and he or she doesn’t care about school, it is because they don’t see the point to school right now. Many of them are motivated by their sport and being on a team with friends. This has been taken away, so school is pointless. If you have a student who typically does well in school and she or he has stopped doing homework and has disregarded their grades it is because they lost motivation. The isolation from friends and disconnection from school leaves them with the feeling of hopelessness. They believe there is no point. They are trying to find the silver lining, but don’t know how. They don’t have the language to fully express how they are feeling and don’t have the brain development to process what is happening around them and all the decisions being made for them. Hopeless and powerless is how they are feeling. This is what creates trauma and why it is so important for us to talk about their challenges and how we can support them. This is not going to disappear over the summer months. In fact, it will worsen until we adequately address and support their needs.
All over the place is where I am and will continue to be until I have done all I can to support our children. I may not be able to control politics or closed-minded thinking, but I can use my voice to advocate for our students. School districts are realizing there is a crisis. I’ve been hired by several in Massachusetts to train teachers, talk with parents and support students with my social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum. I believe we can get better, increase our social and emotional intelligence and learn how to effectively address the mental health disorders inflicting our children. I am in constant conversation about this and will not stop. Feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness lead to anxiety and depression. Our children are too valuable and have too much potential to dismiss their needs. Yes, they are resilient, but in order to thrive they need help just as we all do at times. Asking for help is a superpower. We all have limited capacity and when we can face our vulnerability and ask for help, we undoubtedly get better.
If you have a student, ages 10-18 willing to be interviewed for a study I am conducting on the mental health impacts of living through a pandemic please reach out to me.
Please take care of yourselves and each other! xo
Kristin Asadourian is a personal development and leadership coach. Her coaching practice is strongly influenced by her work as a social worker and a community organizer, which taught her the importance of community, compassion and confidence.
She is the founder of Living Become, LLC an organization focused on delivering workshops, educational materials and keynotes to empower all people, KA Coach, a confidence and leadership building business, the Los Angeles based arts education not for profit, Artists for Change, and the documentary film company, Seeroon Productions which produced the internationally recognized film, “Beginning Where the Soviet Ends: A Study of Social Work in Armenia.
Kristin works to inspire people to live their true potential. She can be found living her truth guiding young people and adults through leadership workshops, coaching individuals and small groups, speaking on building self-awareness and self-confidence, out for long bike rides, on the trials for a run and making messes with her two children and their goldendoodle.