With a stigma surrounding mental health that is still prevalent during a pandemic, the Sharyland community is ensuring they are creating a space to help students cope.
Over the last several weeks, the Sharyland school district has released on social media a series of videos titled “Mental Health Moments” so students can continue to receive guidance on coping with their mental health as the district has gone virtual since last spring.
“We thought it’d be a good way to connect with our community digitally so we started that and have been running it since the spring,” Sharyland ISD lead counselor Alfred Crixell said. “We release videos every two weeks and cover many things from tips on coping with anxiety or stress, how it’s hard work to manage this time and how to balance our lives with this change we’re in. We’re hoping it gives people just a little bit of something that can help them navigate through life right now.”
The counseling department has provided several initiatives to continue to provide help to students. Among them is having all campus counselors create a virtual counselor’s office for students to log in to online through Google Classrooms. Once logged in, students can either talk to a counselor live, receive links to mental health resources should students need it, and a directory of mental health professionals in the area that they can be referred to.
This provides a support system for students, Crixell said.
“It was needed because the connection was difficult. It’s obviously easier when we can see everyone in person, but with everyone at home we have a disconnect,” Crixell explained. “It’s hard for everyone. We’re all going through a new transition so it’s hard adjusting anytime you’re facing a change. We as a counseling department have to find ways to adjust to the new way of living. Fortunately, the technology is there and we’re able to utilize it to our advantage.”
Students are also finding their ways to provide support.
Sharyland Pioneer High School created a mental health and wellness club for students to find support for their mental health and raise awareness of this issue. Last month, in recognition of Suicide Prevention Month, the club and the American Association for Suicide Prevention held a virtual presentation to discuss suicide and its effect on people. The discussion featured officers with the club, Sharyland Pioneer officials, Crixell, and guests who talked about their experiences with suicide.
“If students hear in their household that their family doesn’t talk about mental health and suicide, they believe this is not something they can talk about so that continues the stigma,” Crixell said. “With these clubs, we are advocating for mental health to get more students to talk about it.”
The Sharyland Pioneer Mental Health and Wellness Club has 60 students and is the first of its kind for the district, Crixell said. The other high schools in the district, Sharyland High School and Sharyland Advanced Academic Academy, are working to get their own mental health club started, he added.
Though children and young adults are resilient, Crixell said teachers and parents should check in with them to ensure they are mentally healthy and not suffering from stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Any change is difficult for anyone at any age or development in their life and a transition like what we’re all going through is difficult to process for anyone at any age,” Crixell said. “We need to work harder now, before we could see what was going on with students in person, now the screen is all we have.”
Crixell said teachers have been asked to monitor how students present themselves during virtual classrooms and report any possible signs of stress and anxiety to counselors so the counseling department can reach out to the student to provide support.
These signs are also some parents can be on the lookout for, Crixell said. They include more instances of students acting out, becoming distant, behaving in ways they haven’t before or having a loss in appetite or interest in hobbies they had.
These could be signs of anxiety, mild depression or substance abuse, Crixell said.
“It’s why we need to communicate with students and never assume they’re fine,” Crixell said. “We have to continuously ask them if they are OK and tell them we have noticed they are behaving differently and are concerned about it. Kids have different ways to cope, we just have to make sure they are not coping in an unhealthy manner.”
Crixell said the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is just as hard on students as it is for everyone.
“We all need to understand we’re all the same team working together the best we can given the situation we have,” Crixell said. “We need to practice patience and empathy. If we can do that, we can help the community get through this.”
The Sharyland ISD Counseling Department can be found at https://sharylandisd.org/departments/counseling_and_guidance.