FALLS CITY – Students and staff at Falls City schools spent the last week “seizing the awkward” during a week focused on student mental health.

Alea Littleton, the district’s counselor, said after a year of distance learning and the transition back into in-person classes, the timing was right to remind students that are people to talk to and resources available for those struggling with mental health.

“I think it was good timing with coming back after distance learning. We wanted to do a lot of this stuff while we were distanced because there really weren’t a lot of ways to check in with students or know how their mental health was from the other end of a computer screen,” Littleton said. “I think we just wanted to re-instill that they matter and that they are not alone, don’t give up. It’s a hard transition coming back to in-person school, and there is just a lot of mental health need right now.”

Teachers led classroom activities on ways students can care for their own mental health, such as finding ways to handle stress or how to ask for help, and how to approach a friend they believe may be in crisis.

“It’s been super great. We’ve been trying to give them small digestible activities or things to do that just get them talking about mental health and destigmatize getting help,” Littleton said.

She said students watched a series of videos from the mental health campaign “Seize the Awkward,” about the sometimes uncomfortable conversations needed when asking for help, or encouraging someone else to seek assistance. On Nov. 17, Polk County’s Mobile Crisis Team — a partnership of law enforcement officers and mental health professionals — and Annie Owen, county’s alcohol, drug and problem gambling prevention coordinator gave presentations to high school students.

Owen stressed that starting a conversation with a friend who appears to be struggling — even if you are not exactly sure what to say — is critical.

“By taking action, by helping somebody, by asking more questions, you can save someone’s life,” Owen said.

She added signs can be subtle, and even small hints — a seemingly off-hand comment or social media post — shouldn’t be dismissed.

In some cases, posting on social media may be the only way people feel comfortable expressing themselves, Owen said.

“Maybe that’s a way they can get stuff out, so that’s a way that you can see some mental health concerns coming up,” she said.

Reaching out to a friend or classmate might be awkward, but starting that conversation let’s them know they are not alone and someone cares enough to ask.

“If this person isn’t ready to talk about it, don’t force it,” Owen said. “Allow them to open up about it, and if they are not ready to, just be patient.”

She said once the connection is made, it’s important to encourage someone in crisis to seek help from a professional or trusted adult. Owen said it’s OK to talk to an adult about concerns about a friend, as well.

Littleton said the objective of the week was to reach all students, especially those who might not know what to do or are afraid to speak up.

“We have the ones that are used to getting services or talk to staff pretty openly,” she said. “But it’s the ones not willing to seek help or don’t know how to ask for help – we just want to remind them.”

For assistance, call the Polk County Crisis Line at 503-623-9289.

By Jolene Guzman

Itemizer-Observer

FALLS CITY – Students and staff at Falls City schools spent the last week “seizing the awkward” during a week focused on student mental health.

Alea Littleton, the district’s counselor, said after a year of distance learning and the transition back into in-person classes, the timing was right to remind students that are people to talk to and resources available for those struggling with mental health.

“I think it was good timing with coming back after distance learning. We wanted to do a lot of this stuff while we were distanced because there really weren’t a lot of ways to check in with students or know how their mental health was from the other end of a computer screen,” Littleton said. “I think we just wanted to re-instill that they matter and that they are not alone, don’t give up. It’s a hard transition coming back to in-person school, and there is just a lot of mental health need right now.”

Teachers led classroom activities on ways students can care for their own mental health, such as finding ways to handle stress or how to ask for help, and how to approach a friend they believe may be in crisis.

“It’s been super great. We’ve been trying to give them small digestible activities or things to do that just get them talking about mental health and destigmatize getting help,” Littleton said.

She said students watched a series of videos from the mental health campaign “Seize the Awkward,” about the sometimes uncomfortable conversations needed when asking for help, or encouraging someone else to seek assistance. On Nov. 17, Polk County’s Mobile Crisis Team — a partnership of law enforcement officers and mental health professionals — and Annie Owen, county’s alcohol, drug and problem gambling prevention coordinator gave presentations to high school students.

Owen stressed that starting a conversation with a friend who appears to be struggling — even if you are not exactly sure what to say — is critical.

“By taking action, by helping somebody, by asking more questions, you can save someone’s life,” Owen said.

She added signs can be subtle, and even small hints — a seemingly off-hand comment or social media post — shouldn’t be dismissed.

In some cases, posting on social media may be the only way people feel comfortable expressing themselves, Owen said.

“Maybe that’s a way they can get stuff out, so that’s a way that you can see some mental health concerns coming up,” she said.

Reaching out to a friend or classmate might be awkward, but starting that conversation let’s them know they are not alone and someone cares enough to ask.

“If this person isn’t ready to talk about it, don’t force it,” Owen said. “Allow them to open up about it, and if they are not ready to, just be patient.”

She said once the connection is made, it’s important to encourage someone in crisis to seek help from a professional or trusted adult. Owen said it’s OK to talk to an adult about concerns about a friend, as well.

Littleton said the objective of the week was to reach all students, especially those who might not know what to do or are afraid to speak up.

“We have the ones that are used to getting services or talk to staff pretty openly,” she said. “But it’s the ones not willing to seek help or don’t know how to ask for help – we just want to remind them.”

For assistance, call the Polk County Crisis Line at 503-623-9289.

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