Riots, mass-shootings, lockdowns, remote learning, masks, Covid deaths, vaccine injuries, inflation, supply chain (food) shortages, soaring gas prices, and now a foreign war. That is a quick snapshot of the past 24 months. These collective traumas are having an effect on us all. As each new stressor piles on top of the prior, the situation worsens.
Its akin to being stuck in a muddy pit. The walls aren't stable and keep sliding down every time we try to climb out. All while new rainstorms continue.
With each new challenge, our mental health takes a hit. Each new strain collects together with the last and we then experience them all simultaneously. In response, many people are simply stepping away from the flood of information. Collectively we become numb as we protect ourselves from new waves of trauma.
While an attempt to protect our minds and hearts from more waves of bad information can psychologically be a smart thing to do, it doesn't actually address the real problem. It is also wholly dependent on how we protect ourselves. If you elect to simply turn off the news at night, this may temporarily be a healthy way to cope. If instead you turn to drugs or alcohol, you can see that this won't help you in any meaningful way. Ignoring a problem won't make it go away, in fact, it can often create new problems.
Safety leaders are facing the same when it comes to what is unfolding in our schools. Violent acts on school property and between school-aged kids are on an alarming upward trajectory. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, campuses have been the site of 141 shootings so far during the 2021-22 school year, which is more than at any point in the previous decade.
"Kids are walking into a system that has been massively weakened," said Ron Avi Astor, a school violence expert at UCLA. "We're going to see a variety of different forms of gun violence and violence in general. We're in a situation where things are going to get worse."
According to Astor, the pandemic, increases in overall community violence and breakdowns in family structures are among factors behind the violence. The issues have created a "tsunami of mental health needs" in schools, he said.
The U.S. surgeon general even recently issued an advisory saying the pandemic has contributed to already rising numbers in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates among adolescents.
“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade.” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation."
We are at a vital crossroads with safety in our schools. As inflation continues to skyrocket, we can expect more mental health challenges in the coming months. In 2022, while issues still stem from the original economy-killing lockdowns of 2020-2021, other factors are now adding to the breakdown of the food supply chain and unaffordable cost of living increases. These added stressors will affect our children in many ways.
If we continue to allow ourselves to be numb to the issues piling up around us, things will only continue to worsen. We must unite and close the divisive lines of political divide between us. We must stop kicking the can down the road. We must focus our efforts on making our schools a safe haven for our kids. We must provide predictability in an unpredictable world.
So where can a district or school start? How does a safety administrator even begin to conquer the mountain they face?
The first step is to make a decision to begin. This may sound elementary in concept, but the truth is, many districts simply feel overwhelmed enough to avoid the process altogether, or at least postpone it. It is important that this change. Covid mitigation needs have had led districts to lose focus on basic safety and violence moderation for our schools and its time we rattle our cages a bit and get back to a regular safety ecosystem focus.
We must acknowledge that the state of society since the onset of Covid-19, beginning two years ago today, has affected communities and mental health in ways we never could have anticipated. Its time to pick up the pieces and rally around our youth.
The NASCPC can help you with this process. If you are interested in a free consultation for your school, please reach out to us right away. As the end of the school year quickly approaches, its important to start your planning now so that we can offer our children a better start to a new school year for 2022-2023.
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