Back to School Town Hall Focuses on Mental Health

Back to School Town Hall Focuses on Mental Health

Panel: Support, structure and routine can help students deal with stress.

Parents facing the stress of COVID-19 related school and job issues were invited to a town hall meeting designed to support mental wellness for themselves and their children during these days of social distancing and online learning.

“Supporting Mental Wellness for Parents and Youth During Remote Learning” was held virtually Wednesday, Sept. 16 via Zoom and Facebook Live. The town hall featured members of the EveryMind staff, Montgomery County Public Schools professionals and a local pediatrician.

All were focused on encouraging positivity and offered practical suggestions for succeeding in areas most parents have questions about. Questions were answered at the end of the hour.

The evening was moderated by Steve Neff, director of pupil personnel services and attendance service for MCPS.

The Town Hall began with an introduction by County Councilmember Will Jawando.

“The theme of tonight’s town hall is supporting mental wellness for parents and youth during remote learning,” he said. “This is a big topic. COVID-19 has made things very stressful; you have to be diligent with your mental [and physical] health. Take time for yourself, [time] with your family, clear your mind.”

The four speakers were Jose Delgado, a bilingual youth and family counselor with EveryMind; Dr. Lanre Falusi, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.; Sara Rose, supervisory therapist, Screening and Assessment Services for Children and Adolescents; and Dr. Toria Simpson, an MCPS school psychologist.

As panelists introduced themselves, Neff asked each to offer some suggestions for coping with stress and building resilience. Panelists also shared information on social and school support resources.

“I could talk about many strategies, but I’d like to share one coping strategy,” Delgado said. “Distraction. Like take a walk or a break of some kind [when things get stressful].”

Falusi said that people can cope with stress if they can have a plan, which she acknowledged was difficult during this time of not knowing what’s going to happen next week … or next year.

The good news, she said, is that children and adolescents can overcome anxiety and stress if they have the support of the adults around them.

Adults can help their children by sharing that they are not alone, and their feelings are normal, by creating structure and routine in their days, weeks, months ahead and assuring them that there are a lot of people who are working hard to make us safer.

Rose suggested that adults and children build up a support network of friends, neighbors and family members, people they can count on and talk to.

“Increase acceptance … lower expectations,” she said.

Simpson reminded those attending the town hall that in addition to the pandemic, Americans are also fighting racism, a dual pandemic, she said.

“Kids have experienced loss,” she said. “Loss of routine, loss of friends. Students thrive on structure, set boundaries. [For schoolwork] set up a desk, create a quiet place for them to be.”

She also said it is important to acknowledge kids’ power by having them help with problem solving.

Many questions were submitted ahead of the live discussion, so they touched on topics already covered but were answered, nevertheless.

The entire meeting can be viewed on the EveryMind Facebook page:

Montgomery County Crisis Center

The Montgomery County Crisis Center offers immediate response to mental health and situational crises through telephone, walk-in and mobile outreach services, 24 hours, 7 days a week. 240-777-4000, 1301 Piccard Drive, Rockville, MD 20850