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Mental Health Prioritized For Marshall County Students, Teachers

MOUNDSVILLE — The mental health of students has been a growing concern in recent years, even if the general public awareness of the need for it wasn’t always apparent.

Around 50 of Marshall County Schools’ administrators, nurses and counselors were welcomed to Grand Vue Park’s reception hall Tuesday morning for a seminar on helping students — and themselves — cope with mental health struggles.

Speaking at the event were Michelle Toman, a state and nationwide mental health and suicide prevention advocate, Amy Gamble, a former local head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Katherine Shelek-Furbee, a professor in the social work department at Bethany College.

The presentations focused on topics such as adverse childhood experiences — traumatic experiences that commonly affect children and young adults, with as many as 61 percent of adults being able to identify a past experience which affected them — and their effects on development, and environmental and biological factors that affect mental health.

Other focuses were on suicide and how to recognize warning signs, and treatment and prevention going forward. Additionally, compassion fatigue — the stress and burnout that comes from providing continuous emotional support — and vicarious traumatization were also discussed.

Toman, whose brother Jamie Campbell died from suicide many years prior, would go on to spearhead legislation in West Virginia dubbed Jamie’s Law, which requires middle and high school administrators to provide opportunities to discuss suicide prevention awareness information. Toma said that despite the recent growing awareness of mental health issues and the need for support, the need has been there all along.

“It’s always been there, and we’ve only just recently created a place where we can have an honest, meaningful and safe conversation about it,” Toman said. “It’s important for all of us to be able to recognize the signs (of mental health problems), but it is imperative for those who spend the majority of daylight, waking hours with our children, and even their staff and colleagues for them to recognize warning signs in children.”

Toman said that one of the few positive aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the increased opportunity to take time to oneself and reflect, giving more opportunities to recognize problems and to become aware of problems with others.

“Us being in tune with our mental health more, across the nation and the world, has absolutely been crucial. That’s a great piece of it, is that we all have mental health concerns and we all need to take care of ourselves.”

Toman invoked her brother in speaking of the need to stay vigilant and ready to help one another when in need.

“Pushing for (Jamie’s Law) wasn’t about him. It’s not about me or my family’s story. It’s about every kid and every family just like that who has the potential to not make it back to campus, school or work someday. That’s why it’s important for all of us to be educated on the warning signs and symptoms, what a person might do or say, what they don’t say, so we’re better able to recognize.

“There are things we can do to intervene, and to keep people safe for now. Suicide’s the only completely preventable death in the world. We just have to do better recognizing the people in that space in time,” she added.

Karen Klamet, Marshall County Schools’ Director of Student Services said keeping staff up-to-date with training to help recognize warning signs of students is always a priority, she also said it was important to teach them to take care of themselves.

“It’s important because a large portion of today, the speakers … gave a lot of tips on how to care for yourself, as the adult and as the person receiving that information,” Klamet said. “I think that was an important piece that we’ve left out before, is self-care, in the times that we’re in, as well as the times of having multiple students come to you with large issues that they’re dealing with. It’s important to take care of our staff as well as our students.

“We’re very excited to have this opportunity for our staff in Marshall County,” she said.

In helping students, Klamet said teachers are given a number of contacts within the school district should they need to intervene with students struggling with problems, with counselors or principals making contact with parents if necessary.

“It’s a team of people who have the knowledge to help in those situations.”

For their own use, Klamet said teachers are given access to several resources to help keep their mental health on the right track, including apps for their provided iPads such as mindfulness programs and daily self-care trackers. In the schools themselves, teachers and students are both given access to areas to decompress and de-stress where necessary.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept students and teachers apart with remote learning, Klamet said she hopes teachers will still be able to keep tabs on their students’ well-being, though the physical distance makes observation of possible warning signs harder.

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