Community Trauma: Navigating a Pandemic Article #13: Youth Mental Health


Community Trauma: Navigating a Pandemic
Article #13: Youth Mental Health
J. Thomas Munley, LPC, CTP-C
Trauma Coordinator, ACE’s Master Trainer
Mid-Michigan Trauma Collaborative


The thing I worry about is also the very thing I think we must pursue; Student Mental Health. As schools begin again with blended video/in person teaching, staggered days and grades to totally virtual learning, it has been strongly recommended from the Governors plan for safe school return that all students receive a mental health assessment of some type. I applaud the idea, but we must first be prepared for what we find and have resources sufficient to handle a large percentage of our students needing some kind of personal attention or therapy. I think the immediate demand for assistance would be beyond any one schools resources. With our youth being locked down for months and a world of crazy out there, I think we are going to find that many of our students are struggling, especially those who may be trapped with an abusive parent or relative with no where to go.

If I was allowed a say, I would suggest phasing in the assessments with a given number of assessments per month until the district has had time to respond with resources and additional therapists for referrals as a precursor to plan for assessments. All students would be assessed by mid-year.

There are many factors that will affect the overall mental health of our youth. One major factor is the mental health status of our students and youth before the covid-19 pandemic. Those who were emotionally vulnerable before this Pandemic will most likely fair a little worse than those going into it fairly emotionally secure. Some of the other factors that will affect the mental health of our youth is where they have been confined and with who. Those who are financially stable in this environment will have less stress and worry then those who have been struggling before our world changed.

The research tells us that having one stable, caring adult in a child’s life can mitigate the effects of Trauma and provide a safe haven in what may be a long and drawn out process to getting to other side of this Covid Crisis. We know not all our youth have that stable and calming presence in their lives. The truth is, any one of can be that person. It may be a coach, a teacher, a neighbor, a bus driver. Every one us can probably identify someone in our lives as we grew up that played an important role and helping us feel valued and loved. It doesn’t take a therapist to listen to a child or teen express themselves and be a sound and caring influence without judgement or dismay.

In a recent article on mental health during the pandemic, one of the researchers emphasized that we should acknowledge that we are all stressed out and to pretend otherwise is a detriment to our health. There are moments when life feels normal until you see the news or go to a store and most people are wearing a mask. It has become a way of life for us and to pretend it isn’t strange and awkward to wear a mask and see others doing the same would be make believe. It is mind numbing to think that a whole generation of children will grow up with this as their norm.

We need to admit when we are struggling and not be ashamed of admitting at times we may need help or at the very least a listening ear. We are not just fighting for and trying to protect our physical health, but our mental health as well. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand. We normally can’t be good with one aspect of our health and not the other as we are one being with many moving parts. I know when I am worn down in one area of my life, I feel it in all the others as well. Sometimes the emotional toll of life can make us feel lethargic and worn down. In the same way, chronic health problems begin to wear on the emotions of the person experiencing the pain.

Let’s admit that there are times we are not “OK” and that we may need some down time, exercise, mental health breaks and just plain rest to bring us back to stasis. In world of weird, to pretend otherwise is just that, pretend. We are still in heap of hurt from this pandemic that has no real end in sight. We need to buckle down for the long run with all the tools and tricks we can muster to stay safe and sane. Cheers to your health. When we do this for ourselves, we can teach it to our children. It is our best preparation for being that stable and calming presence for our children.

Remember, we humans are resilient.