News Article Details

Talking kids' mental health

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal - 4/2/2018

April 02--BARKER -- In the aftermath of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., an ever-present question is how can society prevent that horrific thing happening again? Some of the discussion has been focused on increasing mental health care for troubled youths.

The US&J recruited two school counselors in the Barker district to shed light on how students' mental health issues are handled in school and share their opinion of the national dialogue.

Audra Lakeman is the counselor for students in grades 7 through 9. She has been working in the Barker district since 1997.

Darcy Annable is the school psychologist for all students in all grades. She has been working in the district since 1996.

Question: What inspired your career path?

Annable: I was interested in psychology. I thought maybe industrial psychology. My parents were educators ... I saw how hard they worked and I thought, well, that's too much. But then when I was doing my internships and looking at graduate programs, I did like working in the schools. I liked the psychology helping part of it -- investigating kids' difficulties -- and I like working with children and families.

Lakeman: I got exposed to it when I student taught at an elementary school. We had to observe different people within the district, different types of support people, and I observed the school counselor that was working at the school that I was in. I liked the idea of working with smaller groups ... I came from a very large family that had a lot of dynamics to it and so I could see some of that with the kids, and some of the help that they needed on more of an individual or small group setting.

Q: What happens when you see signs of a student having trouble? What can you do to help?

Lakeman: It depends. If it's just a one-day thing, they usually just need a chance to talk through it and vent. I mean, all of us, we find our adult friends that we vent to when things aren't going right. Sometimes they just need somebody to kind of release to.

But if it's something that is consistent and over time that they're struggling, or a pattern of what's happening, we (try to) look at the root cause of it and that could be any number of things. I worked at the elementary school forever with the younger kids. That's when you're first noticing, maybe they're having attentional issues. Maybe there are some family things that are going on.

Up here (at the junior high level) it's kind of like, is it more because of social things that are happening? Middle school is famous for the friendships coming and going, and the stress on that and trying to fit in and know where you belong. And that's a lot of their frustration.

Q: What are some of the disadvantages of being in a small, rural school district?

Annable: The biggest disadvantage for us is the location. We are so far away from any kind of support services. I think the bigger schools, you can walk to a counselor or to an agency ... (In) Lockport, even if you wanted to go to Buffalo, from Lockport it's much easier. I think our location, as beautiful as it is, some of our parents have a hard time. They might not have a car; they may not have the gas.

Lakeman: You're driving at least a half hour if the services are in Lockport, so it's there and back and that adds on an hour to potentially an hour appointment, so time becomes an issue. I think that's difficult. And Lockport is limited with what they have to offer, too, sometimes. Sometimes you need to go a little bit further to get a little bit more specialized. Some of the things that are common that they need outside help for -- we don't identify depression or ADHD or bipolar or any of those things that do happen with kids. We can see that there are signs ... .

Q: What's your opinion of the national dialogue shifting toward looking at mental health issues?

Annable: I've always thought mental health support and services are crucial for kids growing up because we're human. We need help but especially given everything that's been happening -- in the school district, we do everything we can to help but at some point we have to realize some things are beyond what a school can offer.

Lakeman: I would think there are some rural schools that might have a satellite (human services) office in the school. We don't have that. That would be kind of nice, an agency in the school, instead of the parents having to drive to Lockport for counseling (but) that takes a lot of planning. There are probably some financial issues on both sides. But it would be helpful.

Some schools have social workers connect them to some of the social things. We connect families, but social workers' take on it is a little bit different and they work more with families, not just the individual students.

Q: What has changed in mental health since you started working as a counselor?

Lakeman: Social media has definitely changed things. Back when I started, I didn't have a cell phone at home ... . Now, the laptops, the iPads, the cell phones, are very common and so (youths) never step away from some of those social issues that start here; they continue on. So if they had a bad day, it doesn't go away just because you're home and within the confines of your family. Some of those things follow you.

Annable: I think there are things we've gotten better at. Recognizing and diagnosing issues. The media ... were talking about the shootings and the kids emulating and wanting to be like the kids from the Columbine, that has gotten worse. They get bits and pieces of it from different social media sites.

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(c)2018 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)

Visit the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) at lockportjournal.com

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