Students at Valley View Intermediate and Primary Schools beginning their day.

Forum: Community must come together to address mental health

Improving the mental health of local youth must be a coordinated effort that involves schools, law enforcement, churches and other community groups working together, according to attendees at a public forum in Germantown.

Members of the Valley View Community Drug-Free Coalition and concerned residents of the school district joined in a listening session on mental health on Tuesday night co-led by the Dayton Daily News.

The group of about 20 included teachers, parents, administrators, clergy, retirees and police officers.

One of the biggest concerns participants identified is what they see as an increase in kids with trauma, PTSD, stress and depression, and parents not having the knowledge and resources to help them.

A stigma persists, they said, and some parents remain in denial about their child’s issues. But even those who want to help feel inadequately prepared to spot the signs of mental health problems and to find the right kind of help when they do, participants said.

Nonstop exposure to social media and technology also was recognized by the group as a concern.

The Dayton Daily News’ Path Forward project was formed to address the most pressing issues in our communities, including youth mental health and a rise in teen suicides. We partnered with the Valley View coalition to engage directly with the community on this important topic.

Because of the formation of the coalition, the Valley View community believes they’ve made strides in addressing some of these issues already.

They helped a local therapist open a new practice and are providing scholarships for youth who have lost loved ones to attend grief counseling, according to Shannon Cox, coalition chairwoman. That effort grew out of a tragedy last school year when a seventh grader in the district whose parents previously had died took his own life.

The school district is working on a Hope Squad this school year, a peer-led, teen suicide prevention program used in several local districts. They’re also holding a Challenge Day at the junior high. That national program aims to create a safe, open and caring space for students and adults to connect.

But there is still work to be done and the group identified numerous problems that need addressing and some potential solutions:

• Parents need more guidance on how to spot mental health concerns in their children. And while the Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board and other groups offer training such as youth mental health first aid courses, they often are not conducive to a busy parent’s schedule. A suggestion was to use technology to offer that type of training via YouTube videos or podcasts so parents could learn on their own time.

• Young people have less stability in their home life, and a lack of community connections previously provided by institutions like churches or fraternal organizations. The group talked about increasing intentional community building. A Valley View alumni event called Back To The Gridiron is scheduled for Aug. 9 as a way for the community to come together and celebrate, as well as heal from some recent tragedies.

• Communication between the various parts of the community — schools, law enforcement, mental health providers, churches — is often stymied by various privacy laws. So even when the school and the police see issues with the same child, they can’t easily coordinate efforts to help.

• Students show up in kindergarten with fewer social-emotional coping skills so the focus needs to be on reaching children in pre-school. Social media and technology also means things like bullying and feeling left out follow them home. The group also discussed ways to help parents and kids socialize with each other in healthy ways.

• While teachers have gotten some mental health training, the group would like to see that made available to everyone who works with kids — bus drivers, aides, cafeteria workers, janitors, coaches, bible study leaders, etc.

• Parents also expressed frustration in finding mental health providers to treat their children who accept their insurance. The newspaper plans to explore this issue in an upcoming story.

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