A cooperative mindset for our children’s mental health

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, February 23, 2022

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By Howie Soucek

Since the mid-70s, I have, in my opinion, witnessed national declines in public education—in academics, in values development, and in a foresightful preparation of our children for a future of success, happiness, …and contribution back to community and to our national interests.

And in recent years, there have been rapidly increasing concerns about our children’s mental health, with rising rates of depression even preceding the rigors of Covid-19.  The worst of this is that this plague and its manifestations are largely avoidable—and include declining academic achievement, bullying behaviors (including “cyber”), anxiety, delinquency, and even crime …and suicide— all serious problems for our children, for their families, and for our entire community, …and its future. (The operative word was “avoidable.”)

In October of last year, I delivered an open letter about this to our Franklin City Council, School Board, and school system administration, followed by numerous specific suggestions that could be considered just as a starting place, hopefully, to accelerate efforts to help our children.  And now, I am making an appeal to our Wellness Coalition.

What I am proposing is more of an operational method than it is a definition of specific things that could be done—hence, the term “cooperative mindset” that appears in the title of this appeal.

A good example of this kind of approach is to be found here in Franklin with its “Student Wellness Program,” in which the high school guidance office is engaged in a partnership with the executive directors of the YMCA and the United Way organizations, with each of these three garnering resources that exist under their influence as needed.  Because the purpose of the activity is focused on students at the high school, the guidance office plays the primary role regarding the needs of and arrangements for the students.  

However, this is less a structured organization with a certain, single leader—and more a flexible network of leaders with their own resources in different parts of the community who, around a specific, common purpose, collaborate and cooperate to get things done.  Such a model as this should be multiplied and expanded upon—all across our community, …through the Wellness Coalition machine. 

Thus, rather than a big, one-shot project with one person or organization “in charge,” this should be an ongoing effort, such that the mental health of our children would be a regular “update” agenda item at Wellness Coalition meetings, to see if any person or organization has a “brainstorming” kind of idea which may be new, …or perhaps a variation of—or developmental of—an activity already underway. 

Further, everyone would need to have the mindset that the mental health needs of our children are inextricably linked to their education—AND, that the entire community is responsible for contributing to this education—not just the school system, but also the business community, parents organized with teachers, law enforcement, local governance, nonprofit organizations, and our churches, too—collaboratively. 

Why not consider some kind of class or mini-series for our pre-adolescents and adolescents to help them to recognize and to resist the harmful content of social media that they are constantly exposed to and which is proven to be causing serious problems with their mental health?  This could be done by our school systems, perhaps in collaboration with other entities across the community, and through some R&D with experts, such as the Psychology Department at Regent University, …which has a Community Outreach Program.

And as to a different kind of idea, a Middlesex County Supervisor (a member of local government) organized a hybrid public roundtable discussion about suicide prevention, with participants including law enforcement, social services, and a psychologist who is expert on the subject. …And the supervisor involved would be happy to talk about this.

Here’s the thing—We are blessed to live in an exceptional community. Born as a “Navy Junior,” I relocated 12 times all over this country before I was even high school age, and when Linda and I moved to Courtland and then Franklin in the early ‘80s, we quickly recognized just how exceptional this community is. And I continue to feel this way now. 

I have already mentioned the great benefit for our children being done by a cooperation of our high school guidance office with the YMCA and United Way leadership—and we have new nonprofits such as the Down the Middle Foundation, as but one example, working with children in a holistic way; indeed, one need only look at the composition and activity of the Wellness Coalition to recognize the accomplishments of and especially the potential for progress to be made that will benefit our children.

No one can look at the facts about where we are allowing our children to head with regard to their mental health (…and all the ripple effects of this) and not conclude that we simply need to do more—a lot more—to help them. 

And the most important thing is that we must do this TOGETHER, …integrating our community WITH our schools better and in more ways than ever before, and with a constant mindfulness on the future best interests of our children—all of them.  We are …ONE community!

HOWIE SOUCEK is a resident of Franklin. Contact him at hownester@charter.net.