It was junior year. I was sitting in my honors chemistry class, probably joking around with some friends as the bell rang to start my first class of the day. Within a few minutes, the school was on lockdown. Someone reported seeing someone with a gun walking toward the high school. We were on lockdown for most of the morning. It turned out to be a false alarm, but there was nothing fake about the fear we felt.
What do schools do when something like this happens?
School administrators and staff try to address the issue in a meaningful way that will help the students under their care. An announcement may be made reminding students about their school counselors. More counselors may be brought in. A teacher may put aside the curriculum for a day and try to talk to students about the incident. Some students will seek out help and some won’t. However, after a few days, maybe a few weeks, the school will be back to how it was before the incident.
At my school, it was only a week before things seemed to be back to “normal.” I do not remember anyone mentioning the lockdown again. The influx of counselors left, and we went back to the normal curriculum. But you could still sense, at least among the students, that something was still out of place.
Trauma, according to the American Psychological Association, is an emotional response to a terrible event. After the event, you may feel in shock or denial. You may experience unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, or have physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. It can take days, weeks, or even years for the trauma to manifest itself.
During the lockdown, police who were canvassing the school entered a classroom because they heard loud voices and thought the shooter was in the room. All of a sudden, students were looking down gun barrels. Weeks and months after this happened, some of the students still jumped whenever a door opened quickly.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five children lives with a mental health condition. Demand for school psychologists is on the rise as schools see the importance of student mental health and well-being. Ongoing mental health services are important to student success. Here are some ways that schools can address this without having to worry about budget cuts:
- Partner with mental health nonprofits that offer free trainings or programs for school staff on mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a program called NAMI Parents & Teachers as Allies, which covers the common warning signs and symptoms, resources, and tools and tips on how teachers can communicate and partner with families of a student. Teachers spend most of their days with students and can be key in spotting symptoms.
- Talk about mental health regularly, not just after an incident. Participate in events like Mental Health Awareness Week or start a club like Live, Laugh, Love.
- Make sure students know that counselors can help with more than just scheduling. Have the school counselors introduce themselves to all new students and go over what they can help the students with.
Students, parents, and teachers can advocate for change at their schools. They just need to have the drive and the want to make this change. Don’t wait to address the mental health needs of students until something bad happens. According to University of Southern California’s (USC), online Master of Social Work program, a school shooting happens on average every 22 days, and that doesn’t include false alarms.
Student mental health should be an ongoing priority. Unmet mental health needs can harm a student’s future. Since kids spend a lot of their time at school, it should be a place where they can get the help and support they need.