Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tips for Teachers: Ways to Help Students Who Struggle with Emotions or Behavior

  1. Start fresh. Other teachers may see your class roster and warn you about a particular student, but if what they have to say is negative it can taint your perception of that student before you have even met them. If you see a conversation starting to go this way, reframe it in a positive light. Ask what worked best, or what that teacher would have done differently if they got to do it over. It’s up to you to develop your own relationship with that student.
  2. Draw on past experiences with students, but don’t necessarily rely on them. The start of the school year brings a fresh crop of children and teenagers with different backgrounds, personalities, and problems. Think about techniques that worked last year for dealing with some of your “difficult” students, but stay open to new approaches.
  3. Put yourself in the right frame of mind. Most students who have emotional or behavioral problems want to be successful in school, but have trouble controlling themselves, focusing, and staying still. Avoid deeming them “attention seekers,” or “slackers.” Work on being as patient as possible.
  4. Expect some disorganization and forgetfulness. Children who are sad, angry, or afraid are probably not too concerned about missing papers or homework assignments. Of 11-17-year olds who took MHA’s Youth Screening, 92 percent reported that they sometimes or often had trouble concentrating, and 91 percent reported that they were sometimes or often easily distracted. If your workload allows, it might be helpful to email homework assignments to parents to keep kids on task, or provide written directions instead of verbal ones so students can refer back to them. If you are using technology in the classroom, use the reminder or task tools that are available.
  5. Reduce classroom stress. Avoid rigid deadlines – try giving homework assignments that are due in two days instead of the following day. Don’t lower grades for non-academic reasons like messy handwriting, especially with younger children. Think of ways to gamify your lessons from time to time so they are more engaging for students who struggle to focus.
  6. Look into evidence-based programs that support social and emotional learning. MHA recommends the Pax Good Behavior Game (especially for younger students), the Positive Action Program, and the Raising Healthy Children Program. These programs use social and emotional learning to deliver outcomes that matter later in life such as less crime, lower rates of public assistance, improved employment opportunities, and higher earning potential. Furthermore, they have demonstrated considerable return on investment.
  7. Find the good and praise it. Children and teens who are struggling with emotional or behavioral problems find school extra hard and often deal with low self-esteem. They may be extra sensitive and much harder on themselves than their peers. Be genuine and generous in your praise and downplay their shortcomings. Assure them that with hard work and practice, they will eventually find difficult assignments easier.
  8. Be familiar with options for accommodations. For children and teenagers who still have trouble despite after school help or chances to correct their mistakes, IEPs and 504 Plans can help structure the unique assistance they need to succeed. Gently suggest these options to parents when appropriate – they may not even know this kind of extra help is available.
  9. Avoid embarrassment. When dealing with a student who is being disruptive, take them aside or out in the hall to explain the problem rather than reprimanding them in front of their classmates. Ensure that they know the problem is with the behavior – not them – and how you expect them to behave moving forward.
  10. Exercise compassion. No special accommodation can substitute for patience, kindness, and flexibility. Teachers bring a great deal of compassion to the table to start with, but it can be easy to let it fall to the wayside when you’ve got a classroom full of 30 students, 4 more lesson plans to get through, and can’t seem to get everyone to stay on the same page. No one expects you to be a saint – just try your best to keep your cool.
  11. Work with parents. Parents may see behaviors at home that you aren’t seeing in school and vice versa. Keeping open lines of communication with parents will create consistency in working with students who have emotional or behavioral struggles and minimize misunderstandings. Make a plan that helps you communicate regularly with parents who need more frequent contact than others so that they're in the loop with what you're seeing in the classroom, and they can fill you in on what's going on at home.
  12. Make time to take care of yourself. Find ways to de-stress on evenings and weekends so you can bring your “A game” to the classroom. You might be the take-a-hot-bath type or you might be the cross fit type – whatever works best for you.
Adapted from Red Flags, “Ways to Assist Students with Depression or Related Disorders.”

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Story of Recovery from Recovery Is Beautiful

Posted at 12:23h in Stories of Recovery
This recovery story comes from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
This past year I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. I think I’ve always known that I live with these conditions, but it wasn’t until last year that I decided to do something about it. Since a very young age I always felt as if there was something “different” and “wrong” with me. I never felt like I was a normal kid and I never felt as if I could fit in anywhere. Instead of hanging out with friends, having fun, or even being able to study and focus on school, my days were spent worrying about one thing after another. Fears that I was going to die, fears that I had a brain tumor, fears that I was going blind, fears that I had diabetes, fears that I would be kidnapped, fears that my house would burn down, fears of people, fears that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough or I wasn’t smart enough, fears of failure and fears that I had no future. The list goes on and on. These fears led to constant rituals that I had to do to try to ease the anxiety that they were causing me.
I googled diseases and illnesses constantly to see if I could possibly have one. This resulted in me going to pretty much every type of doctor possible. I’ve constantly had a panic in my mind that there is something wrong with me. I’ve spent way too many of my nights awake and paralyzed in panic because I was so convinced that the worst things would happen to me at night. It was usually that I would either get kidnapped while asleep or that my house would burn down in flames. This resulted in me turning lights on and off, locking and re-locking my doors and windows, and checking outside my room over and over again. It was as if I was just waiting for something bad to happen and the anxiety would keep me awake all night. I did things like count the number of steps I took, the number of times I touched something and pretty much counted the number of times that I did anything. There were constantly numbers going through my head and they always needed to end in an even number. If it didn’t end in an even number, I would often have to redo things and do it until it felt “right.” This made my days feel full of stress, anxiety and made me dread every day because I didn’t want to have to deal with it for any longer. These fears have been crippling me all my life. They have made me distance myself from having friendships, relationships, jobs, school, social events and anything that could trigger these fears more and that could cause me more anxiety.
My fear of failure and of people has resulted in me skipping many days of school and to make many excuses to friends to not hang out or go to social events. Every day of high school was a trial for me because I always thought that everyone was judging me, and looking down on me. Quickly my old ways continued into college and again I was skipping and failing classes. My depression and anxiety kept me unmotivated and—once again—disappointed in myself. Feeling like I had no control over my life and absolutely no self-confidence, I decided that I needed to turn my life around. I thought that a great way I could do this was by losing weight. Little did I know that my goal of losing a “little bit” of weight would trigger my OCD and lead me down a dangerous and even worse path than I was on before. Losing weight turned into my obsession, my passion and my life. It was all I cared about and my days were spent writing and rewriting my calories, counting and recounting my calories, and stepping on and off of the scale over and over again. I thought at first I was doing something good for myself and like I finally had the control that I had always wanted over my life, but really I was the one being controlled by OCD that had now lead me to anorexia. Every day the number on the scale would drop and every time I saw a lower number I was proud of myself and I felt like I had finally accomplished something for once in my life. Family members began to worry about my physical and mental health and at first I didn’t understand why and I couldn’t agree with them because my mind was so distorted by this disorder. It wasn’t until my family and I vacationed in California last summer that I truly realized how bad my problem was and how truly miserable I was. I couldn’t enjoy a single second on vacation because my thoughts were consumed with food. I cried after every meal I ate, I was cold the entire time and shivered while in the sun on the beach. I could barely hike or ride a bike because my body was so malnourished and weak. I was constantly dizzy, shaky and my whole body would tremble from just walking a few steps. It hurt to even sit down because every bone in my body stuck out and would bruise so easily. I knew that I had a problem and that my body was shutting down, but I felt so trapped and like there was no way to get out. It was scary thinking that this would be the rest of my life and left me with constant thoughts of suicide.
When I got home from California, I immediately went to an eating disorder center looking for help. I promised myself and my family that I would gain weight and recover from this disorder. I did not want to let it control my life for another second and was motivated to recover. Little did I know how hard and how long the process would be for me to truly let go of it. After months and many tears, I finally let go of my routine and I began to let myself gain my weight back. Still with thoughts of suicide and depression, I knew that I immediately needed to get help before doing something that I would later regret. I found a therapist and psychiatrist and was diagnosed with OCD, anxiety and depression. The constant worrying, fears, anxiety attacks, rituals and obsessions finally all made sense. I finally felt like I knew the reasons for why I acted how I did all of my life and I felt like I was finally taking the steps to help myself that I need to for so long.
I’m always going to face these problems, but I am going to try my hardest to find the best ways to deal with them and fight through every day. Some days will be harder than others, and those are the days that I will want to lie in bed and cry, but that’s ok because some days I’ll feel happy and those are the days that I will cherish. I know that I can never let the depression take away my life like I once almost did.
A lot of people don’t understand how crippling OCD, anxiety and depression can be. I understand how they couldn’t because if you have not experienced it yourself then I don’t think anyone could truly understand it. To the people who do understand and who are also dealing with OCD, or any other type of mental health condition, I want you to please know that you are never alone. There are so many people who really do understand what you are going through, even when it feels like no one does. I understand that feeling of just wanting the pain to go away and of just wanting it to end for a single minute. I’m sharing my story so that maybe I can help or relate to at least one person out there who is also struggling. I want whoever you are to know that you will never be alone in this battle. We will all have many battles to face in this lifetime, but that is what will make this life so rewarding. I will choose to push through and fight everyday knowing that this is my battle. I can conquer it and you can too.

To see similar stories to this one – click here visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s website.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Continuing Conversations on Addiction

On April 26, Newark City Schools Superintendent Doug Ute kicked off “Starting Conversations,” an amazing day of activities bringing people from many facets of Licking County together to talk about addiction and how it impacts Licking County residents.
Doug’s eyes were open to the issue through a personal experience when one of his children became addicted and he is willing to share that for the greater good of our community. Add to that the frequency with which he saw grandparents in the NCS administration building registering for school the grandchildren they have custody of because their adult children have addictions, and Doug knew the time had come to get anyone and everyone involved.
The Sam Quinones book "Dreamland" was the focus of Starting Conversations. The book is an investigative reporter’s perspective of how our country came to have a problem with prescription drug and heroin abuse. It’s a fascinating read about the perfect storm that resulted in today’s addiction issues. Those issues are happening right here in Licking County, and they affect people from every walk of life.
Throughout the day, community leaders of businesses, agencies and school districts, organizations, students and families joined NCS for conversations around drug addiction. Speakers included Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Jennifer Lloyd, director of Drug Abuse Outreach Initiatives for Attorney General Mike DeWine and Wayne Campbell, founder of Tyler’s Light, talked about efforts to help people in our state with addiction, the use of Narcan and the story of Tyler Campbell, who lost his life to addiction.
If you missed the NCS events, there are more opportunities for you to become educated about what is occurring in your back yard. Through the Licking County Community Blueprint process, which identified behavioral health including drug addiction as a top priority, Hope In Action forums are being held around the county to provide information and resources to anyone with an interest.
I hope you’ll join me, Kay Spergel of Mental Health and Recovery for Licking & Knox Counties and several others as we facilitate “Hope for Recovery – Understanding Mental Health and Addiction Issues 101” at 6 pm on one of the following: Wednesday, May 17 at Etna Township Administration Building, 81 Liberty Street, Etna; Wednesday, May 24 at Newark Public Library, 101 W. Main Street, Newark; or Wednesday, June 14 at Buckeye Lake Public Library, 4455 Walnut Road, Buckeye Lake.
We’ll be talking about drug addiction and the wear and tear of everyday stressors on our lives, as well as mental health and suicide. These are concerns that are swirling around our community and impact us all. What is being done to address these issues? How do we cope and where do we turn for help? Join us as we discuss the resources available in the community that begin to address these concerns.
Penny Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County.
Found in The Newark Advocate May 16, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Would You Know When You’ve Gone Too Far?

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. But people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem. Sometimes people—especially young people—struggling with mental health concerns develop habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path toward crisis.

This May is Mental Health Month and Mental Health America of Licking County (MHALC) is raising awareness of Risky Business (#riskybusiness). The campaign is meant to educate and inform individuals dealing with a mental health concern understand that some behaviors and habits can be detrimental to recovery—or even mask a deeper issue—and that seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of.

Take the interactive quiz at and tell us when you think behaviors or habits go from being acceptable to unhealthy. MHALC wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, that recovery is always the goal and that even if you or someone you love are engaging in risky behavior, there is help. It is important to understand early symptoms of mental illness and know when certain behaviors are potentially signs of something more. We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness and do so in a compassionate, judgement-free way.

When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4. So, let’s talk about what is and is not risky business. Let’s understand where it’s important to draw the line, so that we can address mental illness B4Stage4, and help others on the road to recovery. For more information, visit

Monday, April 3, 2017

Always Offer Your Help

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

I’d like to share a story that illustrates why it’s so important to be mindful of our mental health.
I was recently with a group of 27 high school juniors from all over Licking County who had chosen to hear about minding their mental health as they prepare to launch their adult lives. They were all chatting and engaged when one young man said, “I signed up for this session because I have mental health issues.”
Immediately, the room became so still I could have heard a pin drop. I thanked that brave boy for sharing and then asked the others why they got so quiet all of a sudden. “Because I’m embarrassed for him,” came one reply. Someone else said, “It’s scary.”
I explained that that in our country, one in three people their age (up to age 24) and one in five adults experience a mental health issue every year. What is there to be embarrassed or afraid of when it’s such a common experience?
I asked them what they would have said if he had disclosed, “I have a broken arm.” Would they have gone silent? “Of course not. I’d ask to sign his cast,” someone called out. “Or I’d ask him if he needs help carrying his backpack.”
Then I asked them what they thought would happen if someone with a broken arm waited years before seeing a doctor. Their answers included: “It wouldn’t heal right.” “He may never be able to use his arm again.” “It would hurt.”
In the United States, on average people wait 10 years from onset of symptoms to diagnosis for mental health issues. They’re often embarrassed, scared or they don’t recognize that what is happening to them is an illness. Think of how much better the outcomes would be for people if they would get treatment for their mental illness as soon as it begins to emerge. I encouraged the group of high schoolers’ generation to be the beginning of change and for them to start responding the same way to people with mental health concerns as they do to someone with a physical illness.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us would be open minded enough to recognize that someone with a mental illness is a person needing care and concern? My hope is that one day, anyone with a mental health condition will feel secure enough, knowing that they won’t be ostracized or avoided. They will be comfortable enough to speak out and let those around them know what they’re experiencing and ask for assistance. And I hope those around them will respond by asking what is needed and how they can help, just as we all do for people with broken bones, cancer, heart disease and any other physical illness. Let’s change the conversation so everyone gets the help they need. After all, there no health without mental health.
Published in The Newark Advocate March 25, 2017