I have been singing the Gen X hip-hop anthem “Joy ‘N Pain” by Rob Base lately. Here’s a link to the song if you haven’t heard it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hBaOlNVl9o.
This song makes me think about my own experiences of recently losing my sister to cancer, but it also resonates with me as I see more and more articles about the young adult mental health crisis in America. I see evidence of this crisis with the uptick of threats at my kids’ and their friends’ high schools. Even at our state universities, campus suicides are on the rise.
The National Education Association’s nationwide survey results provide solid evidence behind the crisis: “44 percent of students reported symptoms of depression; 37 percent said they experienced anxiety; and 15 percent said they were considering suicide—the highest rate in the 15-year history of the survey.”
The problem seems to be the lack of funding for mental health support services at colleges and in high schools combined with the increased volume of students needing care. And, this problem has been going on for years - even before the pandemic. In a College Quarterly article from 2013, the author, Alicia Kruisselbrink Flatt, points out, “the crisis is creating a growing need for financial and human resources to address this serious problem. Gallagher (2008) argues that the influx of students demanding high priority counselling has become a burden on mental health professionals leading to difficulty meeting staffing demands during peak times, staff burnout, decreased attention to students with less serious needs, and the need to end cases prematurely. Counselling centres in post-secondary educational institutions have difficulty meeting the growing needs of students as they are underfunded and understaffed.”
In my work at EWC over the past couple of years, I have seen more students who have been treated for severe anxiety, depression, and trauma. I have been meeting with students who were currently in-patient and seeing the anxiety on their faces made my heart break. And, this is not just a local issue as we see students across the country.
Nationwide, schools are adopting calm rooms or decompression rooms at school to help students with anxiety. At my son and daughter’s high school (public high school), there is a decompression room. It is used to provide a quiet oasis for kids to escape the chaos of the halls. This is great, but this aid does not address the root cause of the problem. The issue continues to be funding and lack of access to mental health professionals.
So, what do we do? I think that some of the answers are simple and cost-effective. And, they start with us as parents.
Advocate - students need to be taught how to ask for help. Self-advocacy does not come easily, and it is a skill that can be taught. Here is a great article about self-advocacy skill building: https://www.parentcenterhub.org/priority-selfadvocacy/#:~:text=Self%2DAdvocacy%20is%20learning%20how,responsibilities%2C%20problem%20solving%2C%20listening%20and
Recognize the needs - I know that as a parent, it is really hard sometimes to differentiate typical teenage complaints and mental health issues that need professional attention. Here is a great blog post by PennMedicine on how to recognize when your teen needs mental health assistance: https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2017/may/teens-mental-health
Lead by example - so many parents, myself included, have a difficult time asking for help. We also may need to learn self-advocacy! It may be for our own mental health issues or stress, but I find that support only helps me be a better parent to my teenagers. And lately, I have been leaning into the support, trying to avoid my own self-judgment. Here are some wonderful resources to help us as parents take care of ourselves and our children: https://mhanational.org/mental-health-resources-parents
So, the title is branding? What does branding have to do with this crisis? In education, everything.
In my discussions with other small business owners, there are so many conversations surrounding personal branding/professional branding. What is your brand? How do you show people what your brand is? I have been doing a lot of thinking about what our brand is.
At EWC, our brand can be complicated at times. Part of our brand is expertise, as we have years of university admissions experience at our disposal to guide students through the maze of the college admissions process. This is technical acumen. But, EWC is also about heart. I always say that we are a soft place to land for parents and students as they navigate the admissions journey. Perhaps our “brand” is taking care of the whole student - the whole family - heart, mind, and soul. What does that mean? I love to tell people the stories of my students sharing prom pictures with me, celebrating the wins of application submissions, and consoling them when a rejection comes through. But, there’s more. We love to talk about the whole student - skills needed to be successful in college because we have been there and seen the success stories in admissions offices, serving on university-wide student affairs committees, and in college classrooms where we have taught. We also carry the lifelong ache of remembering those students who struggled and lost their battles.
Our brand….is you. Helping, guiding, laughing, and serving up some tough love on occasion. This brand is our privilege and our life’s work. And, we are grateful everyday to be doing this work with you.