Mental health discussions continue to circulate around school districts across the country and Waxahachie ISD is aware of the whispers. The district held a parent forum on March 6 to address the topic.

Consultants with Region 10 explored emotional well-being of children and ways to detect early signs of depression, anxiety and mental health issues.

Waxahachie High School principal Al Benskin prompted the idea of Region 10 consultants to visit with district parents before the recent high school shootings that have erupted similar discussions.

“We know that mental health is an issue in society now and our parents deal with it,” Benskin shared. “I want to make sure I’m providing opportunities for our parents that is something useful for them, so when and if they have those needs, we’ve already provided some framework for them to use the resources and collaborate with them to be better assist them.”

Mental health consultant, Richard Heflin, M.Ed. and behavior consultant Caryn Sawlis, Ph.D., hosted the forum. They provided online resources and answered questions from 30-or-so parents in attendance.

Sawlis opened the forum sharing that “one out of five teenagers have a mental health condition and half of all lifetime cases of mental health begin by age 14.” She stressed the importance of getting rid of the stigma mental health holds.

“I think the more we talk about it, the more comfortable we are with it,” Sawlis emphasized.

Heflin noted that “anxiety seems to be one of the biggest issues in our schools today.”

He added that students feel pressures from tests to just thinking about the future. Even though some stress is healthy, Heflin recommended parents to discuss what stress is bringing their child anxiety. He suggests sharing with their children how to handle the stress and combat it.

He stressed not to have the attitude, “You’ll get over it,” or “It’s not a big deal.”

Some signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder include restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, difficulty controlling worry and sleep problems.

Heflin recommended parents ask their stressed child where he or she feels it in the body and go from there. Anxiety can translate to a stomachache, headache or a sore body from being tense.

“Anxiety disorders are more prevalent than virtually all other mental disorders of childhood adolescence,” Sawlis added.

Sawlis noted a teenager’s brain is very susceptible to stress, and female teens are at a higher risk because the hormone progesterone levels increase with stress. She also stated with hormones increasing, the stress hormone, cortisol, takes over. She said it takes females more time than males to de-stress.

One tip Sawlis offered was the next time a parent takes their child to the pediatrician to request for a stress screener. There is also an online stress screener on the website for Mental Health America. Other screeners on the site include depression, mental health, anxiety, eating disorder, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar and more.

Pediatricians offer stress screens upon the request of the patient. Vice President of Policy and Programs for Mental Health America, Theresa Nguyen, said rates of suicide and depression for teens is higher than usual. She suggested parents ask their children’s’ doctor about mental health screenings during their next visit.

After the consultants asked the audience for feedback or questions, one parent brought up how she was concerned about her introverted son being depressed. She explained how he has a hard time communicating and spends a significant amount of time alone. Heflin pointed out that her other extroverted son’s characteristics might make the other son seem more introverted than he actually is.

Helfin suggested she sit down with her introverted son and take the 16 personalities test. This exercise would help the son better understand himself and the parent. He said this is a useful tool to get a child to connect with a child and touch on some topics that can be uncomfortable to discuss.

Heflin noted that the older the child gets, the harder it is to detect symptoms of depression.

Sawlis and Heflin also discussed types of trauma and how parts of the brain work together and against each other when handling stress, anxiety and depression. To read the entire presentation and to locate health-related links, visit https://goo.gl/w16pgP.


Ashley Ford | @Aford_news | 469-517-1450