For more than two years, students of all ages have faced school closures, social isolation, family trauma, and a constant barrage of stress. There’s no question that the pandemic has catapulted childhood depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues—including bullying and violence—and rising suicide rates.
As a nation, we all recognize how critical the situation is. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared that the pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health has become a national emergency. Even as the pandemic slows, the trauma will have lasting effects into the future.
It’s time to ask if our school districts can do more to help our students cope and become more resilient to the effects of stress, a concept known as neuroresilience.
What is Neuroresilience, and Why is it Important?
The science behind neuroresilience is evolving, as is the understanding that building neuroresilience can ease our children’s lives.
So, what is neuroresilience, and why is building this characteristic so important? At its core is the idea that when we are mentally healthy, different parts of the brain work in concert, increasing resilience. A well mind enables us to correctly assess situations, determine if we are in danger, and logically decide what to do to keep ourselves safe. When we are resilient, we can better recover from or adjust to stress, trauma, and changes.
Equally, a non-resilient brain system can become easily dysregulated—either underactive or overactive. When this happens, the brain’s “fear center” can easily kick into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode—even if the danger level is low or non-existent. We may overreact, have trouble handling strong or conflicting feelings, or fail to control physical impulses.
Why Is Neuroresilience so important for K12?
The alarming rates of childhood depression, anxiety, and suicide are distressing. In addition, educators have reported that many students seem to be lagging several years behind socially, academically, behaviorally, and emotionally. Imagine a second-grader who has never before set foot in a classroom. Or a teenager who has been isolated from peer groups. Or a child who has had little academic support at home (no less one who has relied on food provided by the school).
Educators have also experienced years of upended schedules, family burdens, mental health issues, and high levels of burnout resulting from a shortage of teachers, counselors, and social workers. Further, they are dealing with a reported uptick in disruptive behaviors—including yelling, crying, throwing desks, threatening students, inattention, being unresponsive, and much more.
Pandemic-related stress has taxed our ability to effectively handle emotions, internal stress, and environmental pressures at home, in the classroom, in the schoolyard, or at work. While pandemic restrictions have eased and in-person schooling is back, it’s not business as usual. We’re in for an extended period of healing and adjustment.
Let’s Make Building Neuroresilience a Priority
It’s no exaggeration to say that neuroresilience is one of the core elements of helping our students be mentally healthy, socially engaged, and ready to learn.
The stresses that students, educators, and the larger school community have endured won’t go away overnight. As states and school districts continue to design and adapt recovery plans, many are emphasizing needs surrounding mental health, emotional stability, and regaining a sense of normalcy.
There is also national recognition—and action—to help our children overcome pandemic-related stress. The American Rescue Plan Act and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, combined with other 2020 pandemic relief funds for schools, amount to more than $190 billion in education and health grants available over the next four years, including funding available mental health.
Invest in Building Neuroresilience to Help Your School Community Get Back on Track
By investing in programs that connect the school community with locally-based wellness resources, we give students the tools for better social engagement, academic preparedness, and the resilience to continue facing the challenges ahead. In this way, we can focus on creating a learning environment in which children feel safe, teachers can help students get back on track academically, and families can better deal with pressures and adversity.
If your school district is looking for resources that will help give students the coping skills to face the challenges ahead, contact an organization like STOPit, which provides resources such as a Building NeuroResilienceTM, curriculum and training, which is part of the HELPme offering that provides accessible information about trauma, stress, and the brain to build both regulation skills and understanding.