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Isolation, lack of respect may lead to mental-health issues

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — (Editor’s note: This is the second and final part of our series “Behavioral health answers: Where to find them.” Part 1, “RRPS, others address teens’ social media use,” ran in the Jan. 26 Observer and is at rrobserver.com.)

One in five teens and young adults lives with a mental health condition.

Those conditions are seemingly easier to hide than other problems youth face: pimples, not making the varsity team, truancy, broken relationships and bad grades, to name a few.

Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting mental health and addressing the needs of people living with mental illness, reports that 64.1 percent of youth with major depression do not receive any behavioral treatment, and 5.13 percent of youth report having a substance abuse or alcohol problem. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that one in five teens and adults lives with a mental-health condition.

Where can parents and friends, and even those students affected, turn?

Back in the day

Several decades ago, when the only telephone a kid might have access to was in the family living room or kitchen and connected by a long cord, there wasn’t any cyber-bullying — only in person.

Marilyn Salzman, president of NAMI-Westside, recalled, “If anyone on my block in The Bronx was bullied, we just beat the crap out of them.

“We played in the streets. We rode our bikes up and down the hills of The Bronx. We had after-school programs in elementary and mid-school. We could play with a 10-cent pink Spaulding ball for hours and create a dozen games that cost nothing. We rode public transportation,” she remembered. “The problems for youth are the same as it is for adults: too much time texting and being exposed to things that were unmentionable in our day — i.e., pornography, pedophiles, lack of parental supervision, etc.

“I’m not sure if knowing/learning about these things is healthy or not,” Salzman said.

You don’t have to go that far back to see youngsters’ behavior has changed.

Barbara Bruce, a longtime educator and administrator with RRPS, said the parental buy-in with their children’s teachers has seemingly disappeared.

“One of the biggest changes: Parents understood they were turning their students over to you. Kids understood there was nothing worse than to have their teacher call home,” she said. “Now, when you want to correct them, parents get angry. The minority of students take up the majority of your time.”

This problem isn’t unique to the City of Vision.

“There’s a disintegration of respect throughout our society,” Bruce said.

Retired from RRPS, Bruce is the director for “Ending the Silence,” a NAMI program; she also serves as secretary on the local NAMI board of directors.

“Ending the Silence” is a free program designed to give audience members an opportunity to learn about mental illness through PowerPoint and video presentations. There are three types — for students, for school staffers and for families —and each outlines symptoms of mental health conditions.

“True mental illness is physical illness,” Bruce said. “The most-important organ is the brain — if a friend or relative has kidney stones or a heart problem, it gets treated right away. The brain (often) doesn’t get treated; they will hide it for 10 years.”

That’s because, “People (in the past) didn’t understand about mental health and mental illness; it was a stigma,” she added.

In the 21st century, “It seems we have so much, but we’re isolated more than ever before,” she said, wishing people would talk more rather than emailing and texting. “Our brain needs a lot more input for communication.”

Another problem in society and schools, she noted, is self-medicating, or substance abuse.

RRPS training & resources

Rio Rancho Public Schools has been working hard to identify children needing help and then make referrals — not to a particular practitioner — depending on the type of assistance that could be useful.

RRPS has also been adding counselors and “half-counselors.” A half-counselor is at a school for a half-day; some full-time counselors split their days between two campuses.

In mid-December, a clinical psychologist from Presbyterian Medical Group presented training for school nurses on suicide prevention, warning signs and interventions, and community resources for students and parents.

RRPS also added an online “Bully Report” form at rrps.net in March 2018. It asks for details and, if possible, name of reporting student for additional contact — but can be done anonymously.

Between its inception and mid-January of this year, Student Services Executive Director Tonna Burgos noted, there were 231 reports. That number, she said, included some invalid reports, “which do happen with some people filling out fake information.”

Burgos noted, “Since March 2018, RRHS has had the most reports, which is not surprising with over 2,600 students who attend RRHS. Some of the reports are not actually bullying, but one-time incidents. They are still addressed right away, as well.”

In a recent report to the school board, Burgos listed “staff resources” as:

• 42 counselors,

• 29 social workers,

• Three behavior specialists,

• “8.84” psychologists,

• The addition of a counselor at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary,

• An additional counselor who will spend half of his/her time at Rio Rancho Elementary and half at Stapleton Elementary, and

• A new half-counselor each to Lincoln and Mountain View middle schools, bringing each to two full-time counselors;

• One counselor at the Rio Rancho Cyber Academy;

• Title IV funding to make available a one-time free visit for a student mental health referral for “harm to self or others.”

Also, Burgos told the board about 10 programs:

• SOS (Signs of Suicide) at the high schools;

• QPR, a suicide-prevention curriculum taught in eighth-grade health classes for the last three years;

• PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports);

• A “Love and Logic Curriculum”;

• “Second Step Curriculum”;

• “Kelso’s Choice”;

• McKinney-Vento Homeless Program;

• The sixth-grade Jumpstart Day;

• Weekly kindness clubs at the elementary schools;

• GSA Club support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth and their allies; and

• AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) at Eagle Ridge Middle School and Rio Rancho Elementary.

Although these programs aren’t necessarily at every campus, they are widespread among the district’s buildings.

Maybe Collin Kartchner knows.

Paying a visit to Rio Rancho High School’s Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 is this 38-year-old guy, Collin Kartchner, a cinematographer who started a parody Instagram account that featured him making fun of ultra-perfect Instagram influencers. That move paid off to the tune of 70,000 followers on Instagram — and he uses that account to raise money for charity.

After learning a friend’s daughters had committed suicide after suffering from depression resulting from social-media bullying, he rented several billboards in Utah proclaiming, “You Are Loved. In Memory of Whitney.”

He has four children with Lizzie Kartchner, a blogger with a line of craft/DIY products.

His presentation covers ways to battle thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety and addiction. He’s free to see.

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