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A new school year is about to begin…

As I contemplate¬†the start of a new school year, I am freshly reminded of a conversation I had at an end of school year breakfast in June. I was sitting next to a teacher from my elementary school. I recognized her but knew I hadn’t interacted with her very much during the school year that was just concluding. As the school psychologist, I knew this was good news for her! I reminded her who I was and commented that she must have had a good school year, since I hadn’t seen her at any meetings. ūüôā

Our conversation soon turned to our children. We both have college-aged children, and both of us began to explain how our kids were attending community colleges. I noticed that both of us shared¬†rather tentatively and then as we realized that we were of the same mind about it we unashamedly explained how great community college is and how well that option is serving our children both financially and educationally. As we continued to talk, we found that we also agreed to the importance of children doing their best, but not being pushed to a level they cannot reach… ¬†or a level they are not even¬†interested¬†in.¬†We both agreed that children should have down time, time to play, and time to just relax. If you have read my prior blogs or heard me speak, you know how excited I was to find a like-minded individual!

I would like to see a day where this conversation doesn’t have to be tentative. I would like to see a culture shift where all honorable occupations are valued and¬†character rather than¬†achievement¬†at any cost is emphasized throughout our school systems. I believe that students who choose blue-collar careers should never be made to feel that they are choosing a¬†lesser thing. I understand that we will continue to honor and acknowledge our high achievers and I think that is good. I do not think high academic achievement should be sold and discussed as the ONLY honorable and good goal for any and every student. Students should be praised for honorable character, hard work, and good study habits rather than ONLY their specific achievements! I am excited that my own district has changed our mission statement from a singular focus on college readiness to:¬†College and Career Readiness for All Students.¬†This simple change shifts from an obsession with a university¬†education to a realization that some students would prefer to go straight to work or pursue employment and careers that do not include the traditional 4-year university pathway.

What does all this have to do with NSSI?

More than you might think. There is a subset of adolescents who self-injure who fit the high-achiever profile. These are students who lay everything on the line, take no breaks, and sacrifice everything to be at the TOP. When things go wrong (e.g. any grade below an “A”), a student in this category who also has other risk factors (especially poor emotional regulation and an exposure to the idea of self injury) may turn to this maladaptive coping strategy.

This school year, do not be a part of creating the stress and mindset that leads to the desperation these students find themselves in. Here are a few things that could make a huge difference:

  • Provide a listening ear when students come to you in distress.
  • Do¬†not emphasize achievement at any cost. Especially not at the cost of mental health and stability.
  • Take time to teach your own children and students coping strategies to promote emotional regulation and mindfulness skills. (One great resource can be found here)

Have a great 2015-2016 school year!

 

Please read this article: Best Brightest and Saddest

A colleague of mine recently sent this article from the New York Times to all of the psychologists in my district. This article EXACTLY focuses on my soap box. By applying unrelenting pressure on students to excel and be the best one, we are creating pressure-filled lives for our children. I believe there is a balance that we as educators and parents have not achieved yet. A balance where children are encouraged to learn and grow and are provided with reasonable expectations. A balance where supports are provided for areas of need and strengths are celebrated. A balance where each individual student knows that his or her BEST is enough! We should be communicating to students that they don’t need to be THE best… they just need to be THEIR best. There is a huge difference. Whereas doing your own personal best and focusing on strengths is exhilarating, ¬†being told that you must be THE best is exhausting, discouraging, and can even be life threatening.

Please read the attached article.

Suicide- Best Brightest and Saddest_ – NYTimes (2)

Thoughts for Parents

As a parent of two daughters who each self-injured over a period of many years, I struggled with guilt, anger, hopelessness, fear, and an array of other distressing emotions. When my oldest daughter first approached me to tell me that her friend was self-injuring in 2002, I was confused and wondered if I really understood what was happening. When she confessed that she had begun to self-injure herself the following year, I hoped that it was a temporary thing. I hoped it could be addressed by removing items that she could cut herself with and making sure she was in therapy.

Was I ever wrong.

I know now that self-injury is an insidious behavior that isn’t quickly responsive to therapy in most cases. I know now that it appears to be intrinsically reinforcing and therefore a behavior very difficult to successfully treat. I know now that ¬†a young person determined to self-injure can find a way.

But when I first found out, I maintained the delusion that I could fix it. That I could find the right resources and all would be well. At the time, research was not yet available demonstrating the danger¬†of treating self-injurers in groups and she participated in a homogeneous therapy group of self-injurers (do not do this). She saw a therapist that I found in LA and her father or I drove her the one and a half hours for the therapy every week. As the behavior continued and even worsened over the following years, I slowly lost my sense of control. I loved my daughter with all of my heart, but I had to let go of the idea that I could solve this problem for her. I continued to reach out to all of the resources I could find. I took her to new therapists when she felt she didn’t have rapport with the one she was seeing. We went to a psychiatrist and she began medication with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Still, the self-injury continued.

As this odyssey continued in my life and later included another of my daughters (read about contagion within this website), I began graduate school. Early on I decided to make self-injury a topic of all of my research projects and eventually my dissertation. Guess what? I still felt relatively hopeless at home and struggled with guilt, frustration, and anger when confronted by my daughters’ self-injury. Usually, when one of my daughters would approach me with a new injury I would greet them with the F-word and impatiently ask why they hadn’t come to me earlier? Why didn’t they use their coping strategies? Why? Why? I would worry that all of my attention, seeing to their wounds, and even taking them to the hospital would further serve to reinforce the behavior and yet, what option was there? What loving mother would do anything else?

I am sharing all of this frustration and failure with you for one main reason. I want you to give yourself a break as a parent. If a student of psychology and then doctor of psychology cannot always properly handle these difficult situations at home, don’t you think it’s understandable if you mess up now and then? I am asking you to release yourself from the guilt that you turn over in your head that this is somehow all your fault. Even if you have made mistakes, that cannot be helped by you wallowing in guilt. I am also asking you to literally give yourself a break:¬†take time to care for yourself and your needs. As a parent of several special-needs children, I know it can be incredibly difficult to make the time for yourself. But it is so very important.

Despite all of my mistakes, I did do a few things that my daughters have reported as helpful:

– I continued to listen to them (and I always apologized for melting down).

– I spent one on one time with them every week doing something fun and with no pressure.

– I continued to seek out professional therapy for them and took them to appointments.

– One of my daughters benefited from my help in coordinating a plan for school.

I hope that parents can benefit from my experience. You can know right now that this is likely to be a long road. It is a tough road, but even as you struggle and experience personal failures and continue to see relapses of self-injury, keep providing love and warmth. Admit when you make mistakes and keep pressing on. Keep getting professional mental health assistance. Take one day at a time and make time for yourself.

 

 

Welcome to the Educators and NSSI Blog

Hi!

This site has now been up since 2010 and I wanted to add a piece to it that would offer ongoing, up-to-date information for educators who are interested in learning more about Nonsuicidal Self-Injury and best practices in response and prevention. I plan to write short blogs to present meaningful and useful information on an ongoing basis and may occasionally share personal stories and thoughts at other times. So- welcome to my first blog!

There are two quick resources that I want to share today that I believe are relevant to this topic. One is focused on appropriate intervention in the school environment and the other is about prevention.

Intervention: PENT

In terms of intervention, I want to make sure that you are all aware of the PENT website (Positive Environments, Network of Trainers). This website is a part of the California Department of Education and has historically focused on behavioral planning. Over the past couple of years, PENT has begun to distinguish between emotionally driven and socially mediated behavior.  They now offer a Direct Treatment Protocol for use in situations where behavior is emotionally driven and requires mental health attention.

The specific protocol for any specific mental health issue would need¬†to be research-based and carefully selected, but the emphasis on the need for a mental health response to mental health issues is crucial. Regarding self-injury, the Treatment Plan might include the school site using an evidence based approach such as manual based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and include a coordination of response between school, outside providers, and parents. The new form on the PENT website could be used to document the response plan. You will also find a wealth of resources regarding mental health issues under the Mental Health tab on PENT’s website.

 

Prevention: Race to Nowhere

I have a passion that I share in every presentation I give. I believe that every student deserves to know that his or her best is exactly what they need to be doing and nothing more. For some of our students, that may mean getting Cs in basic classes. I cannot possibly emphasize enough how important it is to provide a way for students to excel in their areas of strength while not forcing them into a “Harvard doctor or nothing” mold. Most students in our schools feel the pressure of honors and AP classes and the expectation that they will achieve high SAT scores and be admitted to a prestigious university. Children should be taught that professions such as trash-collectors, hair-dressers, and cashiers are honorable and not less-than.¬†Additionally, the emphasis on extracurricular activities (which can be beneficial) can also result in a student who is busy for 12 hours almost every day. This does not promote mental health and it results in¬†a lack of school-life balance. For some of our students, these emphases may provide that “perfect storm” where self-injury and even suicide may occur. The director of the film “Race to Nowhere” shares the following:

“Several months into the film‚Äôs development, without any warning signs, a 13-year-old girl in our community committed suicide after getting a poor grade on a math test. This local tragedy added yet more urgency to the need for change.”

Race to Nowhere helps bring focus to the fact that our children need BALANCE. They need down time. Ban Busy: Time to Thrive is another very meaningful catch phrase on the site. Please review the website and look for times to view the film locally or purchase it for your school site or district to review.

I hope you find these resources valuable and look forward to your feedback.