CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Roughly three million adolescents seek mental health services from school, but with many schools transitioning to a virtual learning model, how can parents and teachers help spot signs of a student in need of help from home?
“I’m really worried about kids not being able to ask people for help and say, ‘I’m really struggling, I need help,‘” Leigh McInnis, the executive director of Newport Academy in Virginia, a residential treatment facility for girls in McLean, Virginia said.
“Teens are particularly vulnerable to isolation. They have social needs and in school they are able to access mentors, their peers, and mental health care,” McInnis said.
With many kids not being able to take classes in-person, McInnis is nervous that many mental health obstacles students could face during the school year will go unnoticed.
“Virtually, it’s difficult to feel an emotional connection and to be able to read non-verbals and read someone’s body language and posture,” McInnis said.
That means parents and teachers will need to watch for signs.
“As a parent or even a teacher virtually you might notice that a student’s not participating as much as usual, they’re not demonstrating interest as much as usual,” McInnis said.
Some signs indicating if a child is struggling can be more subtle.
“If a kid isn’t acting themselves, changes in appetite, and changes in mood,” Joanna Jennings, a community relations coordinator for Region Ten in Charlottesville, said.
“Some kids are going to thrive in this new environment, but a lot of kids are going to struggle. So looking for ways that they can stay connected with supportive caring adults is very important,” Jennings said.
Teachers and parents need to communicate if they see changes and remember to support student adjustments with reinforced positive feedback.
“Even if it’s just showing up to virtual class fully clothed, acknowledging that like thanks for showing up to class and not in your pajamas,” McInnis said.
McInnis also says that creating structure for teens while they’re learning virtually at home can help them stay mentally healthy.