October 4 - 10th is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). Each year more and more people become familiar with mental illness and the role it plays in all our lives. While not all of us may have a mental illness diagnosis, it is almost certain that someone in each of our lives does. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) selects a theme each year to focus on during MIAW; This year NAMI has shared content centered on the theme of “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” While almost all of us likely know someone with a mental illness, we may only know the title to their condition and still be unfamiliar with their story or their lived experience.
Especially as we work our way into the Halloween season, it's easy to think about the scary representations of mental illness that we see in movies and TV shows. Your loved ones with mental illness are not about to become the title of the latest psychological thriller film just because they received a diagnosis. Most people living with mental illness live completely typical lives. While terms like “Borderline Personality Disorder” or “Bipolar Disorder” may seem daunting, the people living with them are not super villains in the making -- they’re family, friends, coworkers, and peers. Ashlynn McNeeley reminds us in her post on NAMI’s website that “I am not my mental illness… it is simply a small part of my identity”. For the sake of flair and drama, the media can often portray ordinary conditions as unrealistically severe. Teens face an ocean of stigma everyday so it's no wonder the hashtag #stigmafree becomes so important during MIAW. With 1 in 6 US youth ages 6-17 experiencing a mental health disorder, we can’t let stigma or fear or media misconceptions stop us from talking about mental illness, this week or any other.
While some may look at mental illness and think it is larger or scarier than it is in reality, others may misunderstand mental illness on the other end of the spectrum. While not all mental illnesses are debilitating, they are still very serious diagnoses that deserve the proper consideration. As much as we wish anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses were like a cold that we could just push through or wish that we could just tough it out -- they aren’t. As with all illnesses, some are more severe than others, some have cures, some don’t. In many cases, a mental illness is not something that will go away but instead is a part of one’s health that one must learn how to cope with and manage. Feeling nervous may be an emotion that some find easy to overcome; they can quell their panicked feeling with reassuring thoughts and maybe a few deep breaths. But for someone with anxiety, feelings of nervousness can often snowball into a full panic attack which can take much more than a few deep breaths to overcome. That person with an anxiety disorder may always have anxiety, but by addressing the diagnosis, better practices can be worked on to lessen the impact that the illness has on their life. Belittling or even ignoring these realities can be detrimental to your relationship with the person with mental illness, and it can block them from the knowledge they need to move forward on their mental health journey. Keep an open mind about diverse experiences and remember that not everyone’s mind works the same way as yours for a wide variety of reasons.
During this week, take some time to reflect on your own and your loved ones’ mental health. Ask yourself, what do you wish people knew about your mental health? And ask your loved ones, what do they wish you knew about theirs? Open conversations with teens about mental illness can help eliminate misconceptions they may have about themselves or those around them. As always, know you don’t have to forge these waters alone. There is a plethora of resources available on NAMI’s website including blog posts, resource libraries, videos, hotlines and numerous other guiding tools to start your mental health journey.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, reach out:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Domestic violence is a pervasive issue that touches on practically every aspect of an impacted individual’s life. Youth who experience abuse at home are at a higher risk for becoming homeless and have a greater risk for taking part in unsafe relationships themselves as they grow older. Violence in the home can normalize the presence of violence in other aspects of life or even insight violence within the abused individual themselves. Cycles of abuse happen on micro and macro levels: there’s a smaller cycle that happens in an individual's relationship, and a larger cycle that can occur across generations. The cycle of abuse can appear in many ways. Generally speaking, the cycle is often depicted as occurring in 4 stages: the honeymoon phase, the tension building phase, the explosive incident, and the calm phase. In the honeymoon phase, the involved individuals feel what may seem to be near perfection levels of happiness. Then tensions begin to build. The appearances of perfection begin to fade and one might feel like they are walking on eggshells. When tensions reach a tipping point, an explosive incident occurs. This incident could be a physical one, a verbal one, or a combination of various forms of violence. The calm stage following the incident often involves a sense of shock and guilt, which transitions into apologies, promises, and a repeat of the honeymoon phase thus starting the cycle over. Generationally the cycle can continue by normalizing this cycle of violence in the lives of young adults who will repeat it in their future relationships with romantic partners or family members.
Those outside of the cycle may be oblivious to what is happening to their loved one, and once they know, they may even wonder why the victim doesn’t simply leave the abusive situation. Familiarizing oneself with the cycle of abuse can help make identifying it easier, and can shed light on the struggles of those affected. WHile leaving may seem like the easiest option, it is rarely so simple. Oftentimes the abuser has some sort of power over the abused (financial, physical, etc) that prevents them from leaving; this coercion and control is especially concerning in cases with vulnerable demographics like youth. We must stress to our youth that their safety is top priority. Help them understand that anyone who attempts to compromise their safety is a threat and should be avoided. Make sure that the youth in your life have not just one, but multiple trusted adults with whom they can seek help. While we may not be able to collect every detail of each specific possible incident, we can still prepare ourselves to be advocates for those in need.
There are numerous local resources for those affected by domestic violence. St. Jude House in Crown Point is a shelter specifically for those seeking asylum from domestic violence. Along with providing shelter, St. Jude House also offers legal and financial advocacy - two crucial resources for breaking out of abusive cycles. Their website includes further information on the prevention of child abuse along with other useful information in preventing violence. The Crisis Center in Gary “include[s] the Alternative House emergency shelter for children and youth, Safe Place outreach to youth in crisis and Teen Court prevention and early intervention services for youth”. These services are available to youth ages 10-20 who need to seek shelter from abuse, homelessness, or other forms of violence. Here youth can take advantage of the counseling, transportation, skills training, and case management to help safely transition them into the next chapter of their life. For immediate assistance, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. The hotline’s website also provides tools for creating action plans, specific guides for understanding abuse across various cultural demographics, identification of early warning signs, and a live chat option for seeking help.
Hello, PATH parents!
Nothing brings us more joy as parents than seeing our kids thriving! We love to see smiles as our kids are doing things they love, learning and growing in multiple areas, and gaining knowledge and skills to set them up for a successful future during their college & career years.
What is NOT thrilling is watching our kids do e-learning from home when confusing, frustrating, or overwhelming for our students (and sometimes even for us as parent educators). With that in mind, we at PATH want to equip you with three helpful tips for making school from home smoother and more enjoyable for everyone!
Tip #1: Set realistic expectations about e-learning.
Much of the frustration and anxiety our students face during e-learning involves unrealistic expectations. As we help identify those areas and then set realistic expectations for our teens, things inevitably go smoother.
Some students have unrealistic expectations about e-learning itself. It should feel the same as going to a school campus (and are therefore very disappointed and discouraged when it doesn’t). We can encourage them that yes, school feels very different this year, attending Zoom classes and/or doing schoolwork at home without a teacher a few feet away for quick questions, but let’s look at how it is better!
Together you can brainstorm the ways e-learning has its perks. For example, there’s no commute to and from school, so that you can allow a little more sleep in the morning. Plus, there are longer lunch breaks and “passing periods,” which allows time for a snack or dance breaks in the kitchen instead of the pressure of hustling through crowded hallways to land in a seat before the next bell rings. You are actually teaching your teens the skill of finding the positive amid challenging circumstances. While we can’t always control the circumstances we find ourselves in, we CAN control our response to them! Remind your teens that these are historic times that they will be able to tell their children or family about in years to come. It won’t last forever, and they will get through this season!
Some of our students find e-learning difficult and have unrealistic expectations about maintaining high grades from home. As parents, we can assure them that middle school is more about learning to learn than getting straight A’s. In other words, their middle school GPA is not as crucial as learning solid study skills and habits that will serve them well once high school starts and grades matter more. In fact, online college classes are more and more common, so this season of online assignments and Zoom classes is good practice for the future.
Encourage them that becoming a strong student while earning a B has more value than refusing to try new strategies as a stressed-out, frazzled student obsessed with earning an A on every single assignment/assessment in every single subject area at ALL times! Shifting their perspective on the purpose of middle school, that learning to be a good student is the major objective, will set a realistic expectation and allow students to feel less stress in the journey.
Tip #2: Clearly communicate home systems for school.
As a high school teacher, I found that when I had solid systems in place, where students clearly understood my classroom procedures and systems, discipline issues were rare. Other teachers would tease me that I got the “good kids” every year, but I knew it was simply that my students knew exactly what was expected and how the class was run. I took the negative emotion out of it: Here are my simple classroom rules, procedures, and consequences. I believe in you and want to see you succeed; therefore, I will enforce these dynamics for all students. In seasons when I homeschooled my kids, I found the same was true. When we had clear systems for starting school, doing school, and ending school, things went smoother. It is definitely challenging to teach your own children sometimes, but the rewards are rich! Hang in there! Bottom line: the more organized you make it, the fewer the headaches.
Tip #3: Affirm your love for them while assuming the “parent-teacher” role.
For some of our students, having a parent as their home teacher is new and challenging. (Let’s be honest: for many of us parents, becoming a home educator was not our first choice either!) Early in my home-learning journey with my kids, I was given advice along these lines: Remind your student that you wear lots of hats as the “adult” in the house. You wear the hat of parent, provider, home manager, property manager, bookkeeper, etc. So when it’s time for you to wear the hat of “parent-teacher,” you love them just as much as you always have. Still, you simply expect them to take their schooling as seriously as when they are attending school with teachers on campus, honoring home procedures and expectations.
This visual of “wearing different hats” in different situations often helps our teens accept our role as parent-educator, knowing that our other roles in their lives are separate and still as healthy and strong as ever. So when you seem to “get on their case” about attending Zoom class on time or finishing the day’s work/homework, you’re just wearing your “teacher hat” and doing your job in that area. Love is always the motivation, and a good relationship together is always first priority.
I hope these tips are helpful as you tackle e-learning at home! Be sure to give one another lots of grace. Tomorrow is a new day to start fresh, and it’s okay if every day is not a 10 out of 10 success. Sometimes 7 out of 10 is still a win!
Happy e-learning with your teen!
A Positive Approach to Teen Health (P.A.T.H) is a 501(c)3 organization that reaches seven counties throughout Northwest Indiana. Since 1993, A Positive Approach to Teen Health has been working to empower teens to make healthy choices regarding drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence.