School counselors discuss how they’re supporting students in need

MI Parent Edge event focuses on middle and high school students.


While students have been enthusiastic and confident about returning to in-person learning, there’s also increased anxiety, sleep issues and challenges with time management and organization present in their mental hallways, according to a poll answered by parent attendees during a recent MI Parent Edge presentation.

The nonprofit organization, which is part of the Mercer Island PTA Council, hosted its second “Supporting School Re-Entry” event on Sept. 27, this time spotlighting middle and high school students.

Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS) consultant Julie Wood noted, “All of our kids have now had a spring of one year and then an entire academic year of profoundly different structure, so (they have) the anxiety of simply adjusting to something new, having to relearn.”

Some active coping techniques that can invoke a sense of calmness in the face of anxiety, exhaustion and depression are: listening to soothing or energizing music, thinking about showers and baths, wearing fuzzy slippers or pajama pants, taking a deep breath, having connection and support from others, journaling, taking a walk with family members and more.

Chris Harnish, YFS counselor at Mercer Island High School, said that he’s been noticing more mental health issues than in previous years as students have gone from a controlled environment at home back into the high school environment with hundreds of classmates and teachers in front of them each day.

In the sociopolitical realm, for example, students are faced with questions and viewpoints on masking and vaccination.

“Some of the politicalization that’s gone on in different parts of our state and parts of the region and parts of the country around that — I think that can be particularly confusing for young people,” Harnish said.

He added that students may be feeling uncertain about whether the ongoing pandemic might cause them to miss out on significant school activities like they witnessed with the recent graduates.

Connection is an essential key to being resilient, which is something the school counselors are intensely focusing on when supporting students, said Harry Brown, YFS counselor at Islander Middle School.

Brown said that anger and frustration may rise up, “but we need to be able to be flexible and adaptable, absorb those things, trying not to reactionary.”

He added that if students are fearful about returning to school, an ideal way to conquer fears and anxiety is with gradual exposure to the feared event combined with safety.

“School is a safe place and we really want to encourage you to reach out to our counseling team members if this is something that’s going (on), so we can really help your child stay within the program and do the things they need to do with our support,” Brown said.

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