PORTLAND, Ore. — School may be out but students’ mental health needs are still front and center for a lot of educators and parents after such a tough couple years.
Now there's a new resource to help identify ways to help young people who are struggling. The Oregon Department of Education launched a new website called Oregon Classroom WISE this week to help people better address mental health issues in kids, teens and school staff.
“In all of the years that I’ve been a psychologist, I’ve never seen a single point in time where the entire world is dealing with, simultaneously, a crisis,” said Dr. B Grace Bullock.
The pandemic wasn’t the only crisis. Over the past couple of years, the stress of remote school, politics and inflation have impacted almost everyone, including teens and kids.
“We're still hearing from a lot of families that there's a stigma around mental health,” Bullock said.
That stigma, said Bullock, is a big reason ODE decided to create a website filled with resources. She said they want to change the conversation around mental health.
“We’re really focusing on what strengths people already bring to the table so that we’re not getting into this ‘fixing what’s broken’ mentality,” said Bullock. “The Oregon Classroom WISE platform is a lot of tools and resources to help support youth mental health and staff mental health in schools, and that's directly in response to all the needs that have been expressed over the last few years."
The website has links to videos, articles and self-directed online courses for anyone from parents to teachers to community organizations.
“[It] deals with a lot of really important topic areas like how to support children and adolescents when they need emotional support or social support. What to do when students are experiencing distress,” said Bullock.
She said stress is often caused by situations we don’t feel we can control and stress is also one of the main precursors to things like anxiety, depression and substance use.
This past school year, teachers, parents and administrators across various districts said students had higher needs than ever before, in part caused by the stress of the pandemic. Often those needs presented themselves through behaviors at school, some of them were violent.
“Pretty much everybody I know is feeling the effects, the fatigue, the stress, the anxiety and the unknown and the exhaustion,” Bullock said.
But she said the silver lining, if there is one, is the growing recognition that mental health is important.
“It affects how we learn. That affects our jobs, it affects our lives,” said Bullock.
She said the online platform will be updated with more information, but ODE will be relying on feedback from Oregonians. Contact information is available on the Oregon Classroom WISE website.
Bullock said ODE has $5.5 million in federal COVID-relief money dedicated to mental health. The website is one of three things that money is being used for.
Funding will also go toward developing higher education courses around mental health. Those educational courses could not only give educators more information and ways to support students and each other, but may also lead to increased interest in becoming a mental health professional.
Bullock said ODE is also working with four districts to address mental health workforce issues. She said already, COVID-relief money has gone toward hiring 10 people as community care specialists, who will help connect students and families to resources in the community. The community care specialist may help connect families with mental health, housing, job placement, and food resources. She said districts were able to hire an additional 10 people for similar positions.
She said the 20 or so people hired across four districts to help connect families and students with community resources, are expected to start at the beginning of next school year.