11 Aug Back-to-School Mental Health Red Flags
While it may still feel like summer outside, the rumble of school buses and displays of school supplies at every store are a sure sign the new school year is in full swing. As students go back to class, they also must adjust to early mornings, new classmates, teachers and academic challenges. With all of these changes, it is quite common for students and parents to feel anxiety.
Children and teens are often anxious about the parts of school adults tend to forget, such as making friends, navigating unfamiliar buildings and classrooms, finding where to sit during lunch and making sure they won’t face bullying from other students. Parents worry about juggling jobs and school events, the extra demands on finances and ensuring their kids keep up academically. Anxiety can be good, and it does serve a purpose. It can help increase focus, help people avoid danger and push us out of our comfort zones but it can sometimes feel scary and overwhelming. Anxiety becomes detrimental once it consumes one’s life or starts to negatively impact decisions.
Why School-Based Therapy Matters
CHRIS 180’s School Based Mental Health therapy provides children and teens with an outlet to openly share about challenges they face that commonly impact their age group. As a therapist and mother, one thing I have found helpful with my own sons as well as my child and young clients is discussing fears and anxieties and creating a game plan for the beginning of the school year. In 80 sites our therapists help students work through difficult emotions and provide the necessary resources to cope with everyday stressors and anxiety like peer pressure, navigating relationships and transitioning to new school schedules. Recent NIH (National Institutes of Health) research highlights the effectiveness of school-based mental health programs on mental health among young people. The study showed that group training and individual counseling in schools improves mental health and that consulting with counselors can help provide practical and effective solutions for students.
Other Ways Students Can Cope with Anxiety in School
In addition to school-based therapy, many kids find that having new outfits to wear and fun school supplies also eases back-to-school jitters. For middle and high school students, social interactions with their peers are often their number one concern so identifying a school sponsored group, sport or extracurricular activity can help to widen a child or adolescent’s friend group and gives them a break from the pressure of school.
When Back-to School Anxiety Becomes More Serious
For most students, anxiety disappears by the third or fourth week of school, however some students who seemed fine in August may begin to show signs they are struggling. Here are a few red flags to watch out for in your child:
- Physical complaints (e.g., stomachaches, headaches, or feeling panicky) that get better over weekends and school holidays
- Sleeping too much or having trouble falling asleep or an increase in bad dreams
- Grades start to slip, or your child has a meltdown every time they receive a grade
- Struggling to concentrate on everyday tasks or cannot follow a normal routine
- Mood changes (e.g., becoming angry easily or they never seem happy)
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed and/or isolation from friends
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Eating too much or refusing to eat
Remember, you know your child best and if you feel that they need more assistance, CHRIS 180 Counseling Centers can give your child a place to explore emotions, develop coping skills, and learn how to increase academic success. School does not have to be a struggle and can even be fun so here’s to a great school year!
Laura Mallard, LAPC, NCC is a Mental Health Therapist and Team Lead in the School Based Mental Health program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org