Q&A: How Digital Mental Health Tools Made a Difference for Hazard Independent Schools

From Ed Tech Magazine

Vivian Carter, the innovation coordinator at Hazard Independent Schools in Kentucky, explains how and why her rural district adopted a digital health tool for troubled students.

Digital health technology isn’t just for grown-ups. New tools can help connect children with the private and personalized resources they need to better understand their mental health and keep it in check.

For one school district, adopting an online mental and behavioral health system has been an effective tool to better help students in a rural community overcome barriers to learning, says Vivian Carter, innovation coordinator at Hazard Independent Schools in Eastern Kentucky.

In 2014, the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), which includes Hazard Independent Schools, received a Project Prevent grant from the Education Department that included funding to deploy and use the Ripple Effects online tool. Ripple Effects is a “Social Emotional Learning technology-based software system” that teachers can use to deliver behavior interventions and students can use to access personalized guidance and emotional resources. The technology is now being used in 70 of the 140 KVEC schools as a way to fill the gaps in mental health care for students and already has seen success in dropping the number of mental health and behavioral referrals.

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One Sheridan school increased teacher retention and decreased students ‘falling through the cracks’ by adding mental health professionals

From Chalkbeat

At one school in the tiny district of Sheridan south of Denver, two social workers roam the hallways with handheld radios, responding to crisis after crisis.

It might be a student crying in class for unknown reasons, a disruptive student, or a fight. Less urgent requests, such as a check-in for a student who just seems to be having a rough day, usually come through email.

“It’s very much boots on the ground,” said Maggie Okoniewski, one of the social workers at Fort Logan Northgate.

The school has just under 600 students in grades third through eighth. The demographics are typical of the Sheridan school district. About one in four are identified as homeless — the highest rate for any school district in the state — and about 15 percent qualify as having special needs.

In between those calls, Okoniewski and her fellow social worker Danielle Watry check in on students they’ve identified as a priority. Every week the list includes about 60 students. In the last year, the list includes students from the heavily Hispanic population who have especially struggled with deportations or fears of separations, they said.

“And if I’m in the classroom, it’s almost certain that another student will flag us down,” Watry said.

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Feeling Stuck? 4 Ways to Overcome Roadblocks in Your Life

From Psychology Today

We’ve all been there—feeling stuck in a dead-end job, unfulfilling relationship, or stale routine. Or we begin a new project and lose momentum. Feeling exhausted and defeated, we lack the energy to move forward.

At times like these, even the best intentions and willpower are not enough. But research has revealed four effective ways to break through roadblocks.

1. Expand your perspective. Most people in Western cultures develop a linear mindset, expecting current conditions to continue (Alter & Kwan, 2009). This mindset reinforces the stories we believe about ourselves. If we grew up in poverty or a dysfunctional family, we expect more of the same. With the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, we attract more of what we know. If we had a narcissistic parent, we attract narcissistic relationships. If we grew up in poverty, we continue to see ourselves as poor and make poor choices—until we change our mindset.

To break free, we need to refocus our attention. This means taking a wider perspective rather than hiding from the truth or ignoring our problems.

Remarkably, a study at New York University found that people developed a more dynamic mindset after seeing the familiar yin/yang symbol on a researcher’s T-shirt. Instead of expecting current conditions to continue, they began seeing the world differently, becoming aware of new possibilities (Alter & Kwan, 2009).

As this study reveals, the natural wisdom of the Tao Te Ching expands our perspective, affirming nature’s dynamic cycles of yin and yang, sunlight and shadow, day and night, and the changing seasons. We then develop what psychologist Carol Dweck (2009) calls a “growth mindset.” You can expand your own mindset by exploring the wisdom of the East, studying the Tao Te Ching or spending time in nature, observing its cycles of growth and change.

2. Move. Moving our bodies affects our minds and emotions. Research has shown that exercise helps relieve depression (Babyak et al, 2000). Increasing the circulation to our brains, it also enables us to think more creatively (Steinberg et al, 1997). You can build your energy to move forward in your life by adding move movement to your days. There are many ways to do this: going for a brisk walk, using the stairs instead of an elevator, taking an exercise class, working out at the gym, dancing, swimming, or riding your bike. Find a way to move that you enjoy and feel your energies rise.

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Proven Ways to Optimize Your Sleep

From Thrive Global

A sleep expert’s absolute best strategies for falling and staying asleep.

What should I do if I can’t sleep? 

Relaxation techniques are easy, effective practices that may help facilitate sleep. On a restless night, deep breathing exercises can help soothe the mind and body to sleep. Inhale completely and slowly, hold at the top for a few seconds, and release audibly and with control. The longer the breath, the better. Trouble falling asleep is sometimes caused by a mind full of the day’s worries. If we are too busy and don’t have time to resolve our concerns during the day, they may surface when it’s time to rest. In this case, keeping a worry list may be an effective relaxation technique. This list should be kept current, and time should be allotted during the day, not at night to review it. During this time, planning and problem solving can calmly take place.

How much sleep do we really need?

The recommendation for adults is typically seven to eight hours a night, though sleep needs vary individually. It is important to remember that children have longer sleep needs that actually increase during adolescence. As we age, we become less efficient at sleeping, and sleep periods often become more fragmented.

How can I determine if I am getting enough sleep?

Most adults in the U.S. carry a sleep debt, which means that their sleep patterns are insufficient to the needs of their body. Sleep debt is clinically irrelevant at small levels. However, an accumulation of sleep debt over weeks can affect mental and physical performance, including hormonal regulation and immune function. Observe your own sleeping pattern and note whether you wake up frequently during the night, are feeling well-rested throughout the day, and how many hours of sleep you’re getting.

Can a daytime nap compensate lacking sleep at night?

Daytime naps can be used to offset acute sleep loss and compensate for missed hours. Naps are also used to compensate for a scheduled short sleep. The best nap duration is around 20-30 minutes, as longer naps may involve periods of deep dream sleep. This is referred to as “sleep inertia,” the “tired” feeling after a long mid-day rest. Napping is a culturally acceptable behavior in many countries and there is no evidence that a short nap is problematic.

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Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety and Depression as a Major Problem Among Their Peers

From Pew Social Trends

For boys and girls, day-to-day experiences and future aspirations vary in key ways

Anxiety and depression are on the rise among America’s youth and, whether they personally suffer from these conditions or not, seven-in-ten teens today see them as major problems among their peers. Concern about mental health cuts across gender, racial and socio-economic lines, with roughly equal shares of teens across demographic groups saying it is a significant issue in their community.

Fewer teens, though still substantial shares, voice concern over bullying, drug addiction and alcohol consumption. More than four-in-ten say these are major problems affecting people their age in the area where they live, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17.

When it comes to the pressures teens face, academics tops the list: 61% of teens say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades. By comparison, about three-in-ten say they feel a lot of pressure to look good (29%) and to fit in socially (28%), while roughly one-in-five feel similarly pressured to be involved in extracurricular activities and to be good at sports (21% each). And while about half of teens see drug addiction and alcohol consumption as major problems among people their age, fewer than one-in-ten say they personally feel a lot of pressure to use drugs (4%) or to drink alcohol (6%).

The pressure teens feel to do well in school is tied at least in part to their post-graduation goals. About six-in-ten teens (59%) say they plan to attend a four-year college after they finish high school, and these teens are more likely than those who have other plans to say they face a lot of pressure to get good grades.

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Be Kind, Retrain Your Mind: 3 Tips to Overcome Negative Self-Talk

From Tiny Buddha

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

In 1990, in an early encounter between the Dalai Lama, the foremost Tibetan teacher of Buddhism, and Western students, the Dalia Lama was asked a question about how to deal with self-hatred. He was confused and didn’t understand the question. The translator translated the question again and still the Dalai Lama was confused.

Finally, the Dalai Lama understood that the question was about how to manage negative feelings about the self. This was a new concept to him: he knew that people had negative feelings about others, but he had not encountered the challenge of self-hatred.

I wish I could say that I had never encountered the problem of self-hatred, but I’d be lying. Like so many people, even if I didn’t necessarily recognize my self-talk as such, I was inundated with internal negative self-talk.

My process of coming first to recognize what that voice was up to, then to listen to it with more compassion, and finally, once and for all, to ask it to grow up and step out of the room has been a journey of self acceptance, growth, and ultimately, freedom.

Here are three steps to deal with your own inner negative self-talk:

The first step is to become aware of the negativity of your internal voice. 

For the first twenty-eight years of my life, I was so familiar with my negative voice that I didn’t even recognize it.

I’ve been told that people with Tinnitus, a constant ringing sound in the ears, grow used to it and learn to live with it so successfully that they’re no longer really even aware the ringing’s there. That was the case with my negative voice: it was a kind of background hum.

If I did pay attention to it, I was tricked into thinking that its particular message mattered.

At sixteen it might have been the enormous, overly sweet corn muffin I’d eaten on the way home from school that was a sign of my failure.

At twenty-six it might have been that an essay I wrote hadn’t been accepted for publication; this was a sign, I was sure, that nothing I’d ever write would ever be fully understood.

It wasn’t until I’d been in therapy for a while and had a real mindfulness practice that I even began to notice the daily hum of background voices and to notice that the particulars of the negative voice I did hear were less important, actually, than the larger pattern it was a part of.

Any mindfulness practice can help you become more aware of the negative self-talk in your head. You can try guided meditations, deep breathing exercises, or mindful walking, or simply spend time tuning into your senses. When you become conscious of the present moment, it’s easier to recognize what’s going on internally.

The second step is to listen a little more deeply.

What was important was not so much what the voice was saying as what was under the voice. Often the negativity was there to distract me from something else.

Was the corn muffin or the publication rejection really the problem?

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How To Make Your Brain Stop Worrying, According to Science

From Power of Positivity

Did you know that we have ‘two’ brains?

Well, structurally we may have one; but cognitively we have two. You see, there’s the “thinking” brain and the “non-thinking” brain.

Our brains are wired to worry first and think second.

New York University (NYU) brain scientist, Joseph LeDoux, sums it’s up nicely: “connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive (thinking) systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.”

The system that Dr. LeDoux is talking about is the limbic system, which is a set of structures deep within the breath that evokes the emotional response. The limbic system, which includes the hippocampus and amygdala, is the oldest within the brain.

The thinking part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the newest. This helps explain why, though we’re intelligent creatures, we sometimes make dumb decisions. Maybe we’ll buy something on “sale” out of fear the sale will expire, or we’ll reach for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s though we need to “weigh in” the morning after.

The worrying brain will overrule the thinking brain every time if we don’t know to override it.

And make no mistake, it is essential to know how to overrule the worrying brain.

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Having A High IQ Puts You More At Risk Of Mental Illness, Study Finds

From IFLS

If you look at television shows featuring a genius you very quickly see a pattern emerge. Hugh Laurie’s TV-doctor, House, is a medical genius but struggles with severe depression as well as a messiah complex. Sherlock Holmes can solve any case, but has many addictions and may just be a sociopath. Countless TV shows, films, and books all peddle the idea that highly intelligent people are prone to mental illness.

However, the stereotype of tortured genius may now have gained some more scientific backing to it, after a new study has found that people with high IQs are more at risk of developing mental illness than the rest of the population.

The study, published in Science Direct, looked at Mensa members with an IQ of over 130 and found that “those with high intelligence are at significantly greater risk for the examined psychological disorders and physiological diseases.”

The study found that anxiety disorders were particularly prevalent amongst the 3,715 members of American Mensa they surveyed. Of these members, 20 percent had a diagnosed anxiety disorder, much higher than in the general population, where just over 10 percent are diagnosed with anxiety disorders.

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‘I felt bullied and harassed’: A Montrealer’s fight to get insurer to recognize his depression

Montreal writer Samuel Archibald was on sick leave while insurer tracked his activity on social media

Mental Health: Depression and boardgames, an unlikely friendship

Mental illness. Something that so many people deal with but something that is so scary to talk about. Statistics say that one in four, that’s right, one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. That’s huge.

I try to speak up about the issues that I face but often feel like people will think less of me if I am open and honest about my mental health. However this must change, it has to. I want to create a space where anybody can come and talk about how they are feeling with no judgement and I want to talk a little bit about the many ways in which boardgames help me cope with depression and anxiety on a regular basis.

Having dealt with depression and social anxiety for as long as I can remember and often being unable to talk about it, I would like that to change. I’ve built my own little space on the internet which has helped my wellbeing and mental health in so many ways so if I’m able reassure or support even one person, then my work here is done. 

Discovering boardgames and the boardgaming community has had such a positive impact on my life. 

People often ask me why I play the kind of games that I do, what attracts me to them. One of the most simple answers I can find is that they provide an escape. A few hours away from the ‘real world’, a few hours where I am so immersed in a game that I can’t  afford to think about anything else other than what I’m doing in that moment. Planning my next move, working on a strategy, finding solutions to problems, something I often find overwhelming and exhausting in real life. It reassures me that I am able to come up with solutions, and see a way out of problems that I may face.

My brain is constantly in overdrive from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, consumed by negative thoughts, dread, worry, stress, over analysing every situation that happens throughout the day and pure exhaustion. Heavy games allow me to escape those feelings. A positive, healthy escape.

I had spent many years trying to find an escape and often found myself doing so in unhealthy toxic ways, that actually made the battle with depression much worse. Im sure it can be said for any hobby, but putting myself out there, enjoying something again, feeling motivated and feeling a sense of achievement is something that helped save my life. 

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