Get More Math Podcast

How Teachers Can Support Students’ Mental Health with Monique Nelson

May 08, 2020 Josh Britton and Derek Maxson Season 1 Episode 6
Get More Math Podcast
How Teachers Can Support Students’ Mental Health with Monique Nelson
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Josh speaks with School Counselor, Monique Nelson. We wanted to have a dialogue specifically about student and teacher mental health as we begin wrapping up the 2019-2020 school year. Monique gives us great insight on helping students navigate through the grief they most likely are experiencing, what teachers should watch out for to assess the well being of their students and encouragement for teachers on dealing with their own mental health. 

In this episode we discuss: 

  • helping teenagers recognize and navigate through grief
  • signs to watch out for on well-being check-ins
  • the emotional experience teachers are facing
  • how parents can help teens with sleeping habits

Resources/ Tools Mentioned: 

We hope you enjoy this interview and are encouraged to approach your students with deeper empathy and understanding. We would love to hear from you as you continue listening to our show. If you are a teacher, parent, or administrator, reach out to us a and let us know what you're doing to adjust during the COVID era.

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About our Guest:
Hello, my name is Monique Nelson. My career began in education as a classroom teacher in 1998. Although I did not anticipate teaching Kindergarten, I spent many years in Kinder Land and absolutely adored it.  

My life, among many others’ lives, had a major plot twist that inspired me to pursue my life long dream of obtaining a Masters degree in Psychology and become a Marriage and Family Therapist.  I am currently awaiting my clinical exam date to become licensed.  

I recently accepted a position as a crisis counselor at Summerville High School in Tuolumne, California.  My love for education and mental health makes my career so very enriching!  

My husband and I have four (almost all) adult children that we admire for their unique abilities and passions. We enjoy camping near the Pacific Ocean and BBQing with our family and friends. 

Derek:   0:01
Welcome to the Get More Math Podcast, where we support teachers in their quest for long term student gains. This is a podcast for teachers to share their passion for math education, learn best practices from experts in the field and swap ideas for student success. This is community. This is Get More Math. Welcome back to the Get More Math Podcast. I'm Derek Maxson, the president of Get More Math, and I'm here with Josh Britton, the founder of Get More Math. Welcome back, Josh.  

Josh:   0:34
Hello, Derek.  

Derek:   0:36
Tell us a little bit about what's in store for us on this episode of the podcast.

Josh:   0:41
Well, today we're gonna talk to Monique Nelson. She's a crisis counselor at Summerville High School.  We thought we get the perspective of a counselor to talk a little bit about what might kids be facing and teachers just in terms of their mental health, as they have been removed from the classroom for so long and stuck at home. What are some of the things they're going through? And also, I should say, how can we help them? 

Derek:   1:05
I think this is a very timely episode for us. In many parts of the country, we've begun to hear stories about how people are really struggling in shelter-at-home and being able to care for the students in our classes is an important thing. Let's go straight to the interview with Josh and Monique. 

Josh:   1:35
Well, welcome back. We've been exploring ways that the teaching community is dealing with the pandemic. What's life like for teachers and for students? How can we continue to teach? How can we support each other? How can we support our students? And we thought today it might be interesting to talk to a counselor. So we've brought in Monique Nelson. She's a crisis counselor at Summerville High School in California. Good morning, Monique. 

Monique:   2:01
Good morning, Josh. How are you?

Josh:   2:03
I'm doing great, yourself?

Monique:   2:05
I'm doing really well, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Josh:   2:09
We're excited to talk to a counselor. So far, we've been speaking to teachers and administrators so you're kind of widening our view, giving us another way of looking at what we're all facing. So thank you. Maybe we could start just by having you describe your typical job responsibilities sort of pre-crisis?

Monique:   2:31
Sure, sure, absolutely. So I am a crisis counselor. That's my title. And I work for a public high school in the foothills of Tuolomne, which is in California, and my responsibility is to provide mental health services and support to students that are experiencing some mental health issues, may or may not be a diagnosis mental health issue, but to provide them with some support on campus to help them to do their job on campus and kind of just in life. Also, to help them to become more academically successful, to give them that mental health support. We do on our campus, a very unique campus,  we do have a connections academy, which is a Fine Arts Academy for seventh and eighth-graders. So I do get to work with students from ranging from seventh grade all the way up to 12th graders.

Josh:   3:49
Obviously you're working from home now. Before we kind of get into the main topic, which is sort of mental health for students and teachers through this time,  I'm just curious about your work environment right now. Are you basically working through video chat?

Monique:   4:04
Yes. That was something that the Board of Behavioral Sciences, who we kind of answer to as clinicians. When all of this kind of went down, we have really, really stringent HIPPA you know, HIPPA rights and HIPPA privacy things going on. And that was kind of a scramble, as I know, everybody else was scrambling when this a shelter-in-place started. But they did lighten up some of those requirements so we can use some capacity of video. Therapeutic telehealth is what we call it. So, yes.

Josh:   4:55
Wait, can you say that again? Video Therapeutic Telehealth?

Monique:   4:59
So, yeah, that's kind of my term I use, but we could just say...

Josh:   5:06

Monique:   5:07
could just say Telehealth. Yeah. Yeah. So we're using that. 

Josh:   5:12
I love acronyms.

Monique:   5:19
 Okay! Yeah. So that's kind of how I'm seeing students and how I'm supporting students.

Josh:   5:20
Are you finding it harder to identify needs because you're not there in person?

Monique:   5:26
Yes. I'm finding it harder to reach them and have them want to participate in a session with me. A lot of times when I was on campus, everybody knew where my office was and they could just swing by. And with the high school age, It was sometimes just a casual swing by, "can I have can I have a snack out of your basket?" And then it would you know, it would end up being, "um I need to talk about this type of a thing." So yeah, it's a bit challenging. That's a bit challenging.

Josh:   6:08
That's a very sweet picture, by the way. I love the thought that you would sort of, but it's not really baiting them, but that there would be a comfortable place that could go. You know, there's a candy bar, and before they know it, they're taking the opportunity to really get your help. I love that, um, and I could see how losing that that tactic would hinder your effectiveness because now it puts an air of formality. You go right from 0 to 60 like we're meeting to talk about a problem. I could see how that would be heavier handed not intentionally just harder to ease in. Let's get to kind of my main questions and really kind of using your expertise, I wonder if you could tell us,  let's start with students, what would you say are some of the mental health issues that maybe normally exist, people normally face, but that would be exacerbated now that kids are, they've been isolated for six or seven weeks, removed from their peers, from their educational environment? Can you just comment on maybe what the issues would be?

Monique:   7:21
Yes. So I'm experiencing along with my colleagues, we're experiencing just that kind of lack of hope, especially with some of our teenagers who were looking forward to things that occur on a school campus. So they're having a little bit, like things like prom and graduation and just maybe spirit days and those things that come with being able to socialize on campus. So the loss of hope is kind of a thing that's been a general theme. Also, depression symptoms such as, well, loss of hope. Maybe looking at their sleep habits, loss of routine and maladaptive eating might be going on, anxiety. School is definitely an outlet for some of our students. Their home life isn't ideal for some of them. And some of the students obviously go to school for some ideal interaction, although not perfect, but some social interaction from the teachers from their peers and that sort of thing. So, we're missing out on that also in some cases. Let's see what else? Oh, I think that, just that loss of what they thought their spring routine was going to look like, just that sense of grief. And I taught, I really have been working on grief with a lot of my, well, a lot of my students and really normalizing the fact that grief doesn't just come from the loss of a person, but it comes from the loss of what we think our life was going to look like, and their life is turned upside down, and it's not what they thought it was going to be.

Josh:   9:24
Well, I have several questions from that list. Let's start with the last, which is, you mentioned grief. I'm curious to know as you talked through grief with kids. Do they start by knowing that they're even experiencing grief?

Monique:   9:38
No, they don't, and I think that a huge, a lot of my students, when we do talk about kind of stages of grief, and how they're shocked. They kind of say, "Well, Mrs. Nelson, nobody died that I love," and we try to try to normalize the fact that grief can come through the loss of things also. So, yes, they don't know. They really don't know. And I'm actually starting a grief group this week with some of the high schoolers and, you know, based on by somewhat we've been dealing with our with the COIVD-19.

Josh:   10:21
So what are the stages of grief?

Monique:   10:23
Yes, so there is,  it's actually called Kübler-Ross Grief cycle. And so we have some stages here, and I always tell my students that we don't have to go from left to right. There's no order. There are no right or wrong ways to go through these or there are no time limits, that one size does not fit all. But first, we have denial. So we kind of have that avoidance in that confusion. Maybe shock and fear. And as I'm saying this, we can kind of apply the COVID, you know, to it, and then we may have some anger, some frustration underneath that irritation, maybe some anxiety. And then we kind of go into the bargaining stage, may be struggling to find meaning, maybe telling one's story about what's happening with them. And then we may have some depression. Were maybe overwhelmed, that feeling of hopelessness,, helplessness. Flight that flight or fight might be going on. And then acceptance. So we're exploring options of acceptance and we might have, like, a new plan in place, and we may be moving on. But, you know, I saw something and I can't quote where I saw it, but I just watched a video and it showed a circle. And if you can imagine a circle and the word grief was written in the center and then all these stages were put inside the circle. And then with the idea that we kind of are in that circle, okay, and that we kind of hang in that circle, right? Well, this person had made another circle around the smaller circle, and we kind of grow and adapt. It never really goes away. We never go out of the circle, but we grow around the circle. 

Josh:   12:25
So it becomes a part of you. But you are more than the grief.

Monique:   12:30
Absolutely, Absolutely.

Josh:   12:33
I think I see that. As you help kids kind of work through grief and loss there are two aspects of it that actually I'm wondering about just sort of personally from some people I'm talking to. How much of it has to do with sort of immediate loss, like the things you listed, or maybe a different way of putting this, is there an element of longterm sort of projected loss? Like I'm helping somebody work through something where he's concerned about next year and two years from now and actually sometimes the rest of his life, because of all the uncertainty. Are you facing that as well?

Monique:   13:08
Yes, especially with my high school seniors and their plans that are kind of, might be up in the air of this point. Yes. I mean, and I think that goes realparallel to that loss of hope and that feeling of we as humans are really, really lacking the ability to do much planning at this point. So yes, I definitely... and I see it in these teachers that I support also, while I don't support them therapeutically, I support them with psychoeducation and I help them support their students. So yes, it's kind of that loss of hope.,

Josh:   13:53
So that was interesting,  you said the loss of hope sometimes is accompanied by a reality of not being able to plan. Those two go together. That's interesting. So you can't say, "Well, next year I'm going to rise above this, or get a job, or go to college because perhaps there are all these different impediments." But also, there are all these uncertainties. Can you go to college or you have to stay to college? Do you find that students are specifically worried about getting the disease?

Monique:   14:24
I've never heard that from my students. Their main concern is not having their normal routine and life. My students do not express that to me. I'm not sure if they do, if they're they're feeling it or not, but I don't hear that from my students that they're afraid of the disease.

Josh:   14:52
Have you or in your area, have there been young people who have had to deal with the disease?

Monique:   15:00
Not to my knowledge. No

Josh:   15:02
My guess would be unless it actually happens. Like the thing that is actually happening is they are removed from their normal environments, that routines are broken. They're not sure what's coming next, so they're experiencing those losses. But the health thing itself, I guess unless it happens to someone they know or happens to them, for most of them, perhaps, it's just not as much of an issue.

Monique:   15:23
Yeah, and it might not feel real to them. That's such an interesting point that I have not thought about too much. That is a very interesting point. Thanks for bringing that up. 

Josh:   15:35
Well, it's certainly the way I live. It's hard for me to experience a thing until I've touched it, felt it, seen it, seen it hit somebody I know. Until then, it's, you know, it's just numbers and it's New York City. You know, it's hard to feel. I wonder how and when that may change over the next year or two, as the virus kind of makes it's way through our population, right? But who knows? Maybe it's younger people, they'll get away with sniffles. I don't know...

Monique:   16:03
Right and just on a side note with that is that I was thinking about this. Some of my students are kind of in that anger phase. And I think that possibly if they did, I mean, I don't want them to know someone that's affected by this, but possibly if they did know someone or know someone that knows someone, they might have a little more perspective and may not be kind of so angry.

Josh:   16:27
It's interesting. Yeah, somebody they loved, somebody they cared about was actually dealing with it. So does their anger end up being directed at the school or their the government or something like that?

Monique:   16:40
I would definitely say the government in just kind of, without making too much of a political statement, just kind of like the big, the big cheese is kind of what I think, the person on the.... you know. They're mad. They don't understand. And I think what fuels that is that they're not seeing it, not seeing it affecting someone that they love or care about. And then just kind of asking why, why, why is this happening? You know, "Is this really necessary?" and just just having those thoughts. Yeah, as young people, just something that amazes me. I think back when I was their age and how life is tough to navigate when you're that age. There's lots of issues and then just kind of plopped this issue on their plate. And I just have mad respect for them right now.

Josh:   17:32
Yes, absolutely. They're facing something unlike anything in recent history, for sure in their generation. Well, let's talk a little bit about teachers now. You said you work with students primarily, but you also have relationships with teachers and you're a counselor in their world. I imagine a whole bunch of what you said sort of just applies right onto the adults. But I wonder, is there anything further you'd want it to comment on for what teachers might be facing in terms of mental health?

Monique:   18:04
Right, you know, in kind of doing a little bit of prep work for this, I am very blessed to have lots of teachers in my repertoire. My sister's a second-grade teacher, and I had a chat with her, and it was really awesome. She just kind of, I wanted to make sure I was kind of, making sure that I was representing, you know, what the teachers are feeling, and with me supporting the high school teachers.  They are just feeling, I think a lot of teachers go into teaching because they love that connection with their kids, and they love that kind of physical-ness of being in the classroom or being on campus. And most of the teachers that I'm supporting, and my sister kind of chimed in on this one also, is it's one thing to, you know, be able to teach a lesson to a student. But it's another thing to be able to go on campus and be able to lay eyes on your student and make sure, kind of do that mental status exam is what we call it in my field. Make sure that they're clean. Make sure that they have been fed, make sure that they're on campus kind of, you know, teachers do so much. But to be able to see your students and make sure that they are okay, they're present and you know, I think it's it's tough to do that via video. It's just that has been the biggest challenge for the teachers that I'm supporting.

Josh:   19:47
I know that when I was teaching and I taught for about 20 years, the thing that sort of was my fuel, my rocket fuel, was being with kids, and basically for me, the great joy was seeing them learn. Often there were kids who hadn't learned very much and then finally, at this early high school stage with me, they were finally getting some traction. It was that in-person, these ah-ha moments, the delight that they would have in the discovery of their own capacity and so much of that was about being there about the moment. So I think what you're saying and what I'm kind of saying as well, they also are experiencing loss Loss may be of a different maybe a different color, a different character, but that loss would be where your, would be a summary of both the students and the teachers and what they're facing.

Monique:   0:00
  Yes. Absolutely.

Josh:   20:40
I am not a licensed counselor, so I'm not qualified to say a whole bunch of authoritative stuff, but one of things I like, when it comes to loss is just to call it what it is and not to go right to, "but it's OK because..." You know, I do like to think about positives and ways to handle loss, and I like to look for the bright side, but at the beginning, with loss, I'd like to just name it as a loss. "Yeah, that kind of sucks" is certainly my lead with loss.

Monique:   21:21
And sit in it with that person if you can, or just sit in it and just have it be what it is. It's so helpful and so therapeutic, just to be able to just sit in that moment. And I think when we say you know "it's OK" it's taking away the "we're not validating. It's not OK. It sucks sometimes, you know." And yeah, I just think that that's such an important point that you made.

Josh:   21:52
Thank you for kind of talking about various forms of loss students and teachers could face. Many of us are working with students as best we can phone calls, video conferences, and what have you. So I'm just wondering what are ways teachers can listen for, think about .even maybe probe for if it seems indicated,signals that a kid may be going through something that is becoming serious that may even need some intervention.

Monique:   22:21
Right. So, as I said before, teachers, probably know their students pretty well. And I think listening for, we all have kind of a baseline when it comes to sleep, when it comes to nutrition, when it comes to even our mood. And our teachers probably know that baseline.  Really paying attention to if they're getting a sense of loss of hope or loss of the loss of contact. If you have a student that normally would be maybe in high contact with you via whatever, your Google classroom, that happens to be the one we use. But whatever your platform is, if if you have that loss of contact with that student and their normal baseline is that they're high contact, that's a warning sign. If you're kind of getting on an idea from your student that there's a loss of hope, if they're saying things like, "Well, why is this? Why is this even worth it?" or that sort of thing, you know, that could be a warning sign. If they are having hygiene issues,  if you're seeing your student on whatever platform you're using and you're seeing them and you've noticed that their baseline hygiene has decreased, you know, maybe they come to school pretty clean, whatever it is, but you're noticing that they're not brushing their hair or whatever. You know, any signs of eating habits, whatever that means for them, as far as baseline say, they tell you they're not eating. I mean, that would definitely be...  Sleeping habits, also, I find some of the teachers are kind of contacting me and saying that there's a lack of a routine and their sleeping habits would be because I don't have to get up and go to school physically go to school in the morning that they're staying up kind of most of the night talking with a friend or playing a video game or whatever. Watching Netflix or whatever it is they're choosing to do. And then they're sleeping, you know, the whole next day. When are they getting their schoolwork done? And not reaching out. Like I find there are some students that are really keeping in contact with their social group that they hung out with on campus, and they're keeping in contact with them. But then there are other ones that are isolating, so that could be a warning sign also. And just, you know, self-harm or if they disclose anything like that to you. So self-harm, any substance issues. You know, it depends. It's all different for different students because we all have issues. But those would be some things that I tell teachers to kind of keep an eye out for if they need to do further referral to someone who can kind of assess further for that.

Josh:   25:25
It's a great list. I'm gonna want to choose one of them that's of particular interest to me. That's good sleeping habits for a minute. So I'm curious, and maybe it's not possible, but what for, like a late teen, what are the repercussions of sort of shifting a routine and now, you know, going to sleep at two or three in the morning, waking up at one in the afternoon. What are the negatives there and maybe what could parents to help those kids?

Monique:   25:56
Right. Well, I think when we see a lack of sleep in general, we may see irritability. We may see students not having the capacity to stay, you know, on a routine, because they're like you said, they're going to bed at two in the morning, and then they're needing that, you know, whatever, 8 to 10 hours, it's different for all of us. But they're needing that. And so they're sleeping kind of their day away. Loss of motivation could be happening also because they're not having that normal routine. That just is gonna disrupt on their loss of motivation, which could impact their learning also, really. But I do see, I see irritability when students don't get enough sleep. I just really see that because we need sleep. We're like a house plant, right? We need sunlight. we need water, and then we need sleep.

Josh:   27:11
It's absolutely true for me Yes, for everyone.

Monique:   27:15
So how parents could help is, you know, I'm gonna be real with you. It's tough because at the later teens they're trying to become independent, you know, that autonomy, and that is kind of happening. And they wanted to be, they want to become independent. And so if we're telling, you know, we're taking devices away from our teens or were telling them there's bedtime, there could be some backlash. But I think what is most effective and has been effective with parents that I chat with is educating them. Sitting with their teen and educating them about the effects of sleep like in just like a, you know, it's important to get sleep. "Did you know that this is what happens to your brain when you don't get sleep?  Or this may happen on? And then it would impact these parts of your life." And just, instead of like telling you, I'm gonna take your device away at 10 o'clock or you need to go to sleep by 10 o'clock, like sitting with them and just sitting in that space with them and helping them to understand why that's important.

Josh:   28:27
So you can widen their understanding, and then they still make the choice. Then maybe, if they have the if they begin to experience some of the negative consequences, they have a context of understanding what's happening. Maybe they could identify what's happening, connect, maybe even change the choices. Yeah, I like that. That makes sense to me.

Monique:   28:48
Yeah, and natural consequences are a good thing. I think that's kind of like what you're saying also, just the natural consequences. Yeah, it's so hard as a parent.

Josh:   29:01
I was just going there. I was just thinking, you know, I have a love-hate relationship with natural consequences. I want them to be, as a parent speaking, but as a teacher as well,. I want the child to experience some pain, some difficulty, but not very much. And there are all these things where like the natural consequence, like of running out into the street and getting hit Well, that's, you know, that's a natural consequence. But you can't let it happen. But somewhere in between that and the natural consequence of you know, I don't know, not sleeping quite enough. There's this gray area of difficult natural consequence.

Monique:   29:44
It's tough. It's tough

Josh:   29:47
Well, so as you think about the various issues we've talked about and working with teachers, you said you do support your teachers. Do you like a kind of a nut-shell, go-to message for teachers right now?

Monique:   30:01
I do and it may sound so generic, but from being in the classroom for, I was actually in the classroom for many years, and so I have this just mad appreciation for educators. I want to just say to educators that you are doing an amazing job. When you got your credential, you probably had no idea, unless you signed up to be a distance era, you know, a teacher that was going to do it through distance, you had no idea what you were kind of signing up for. And you are doing an amazing job, and I just want to say that I just Oh, my goodness. Give yourself Grace. Support yourself. I know self-care is such a buzz word right now, but I really, really think that just hopping into self-care and really having those boundaries as a teacher because working from home can turn into like more than a 10 hour day or whatever or eight hours, day or six-hour day or whatever. And I just want to say that I just I'm so appreciative. And you're doing an amazing, amazing job supporting your students.

Josh:   31:28
Thank you, Monique. I think that's a great way to land. I really appreciated our conversation today.

Monique:   31:33
Yeah, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.

Derek:   31:45
I'd like to thank Monique Nelson for being with us today on the podcast. Wow, Josh, there was a lot of good stuff in that podcast. What do you think are some takeaways that we could use in summarizing this episode? 

Josh:   31:57
I think my take away is that she framed what students and possibly teachers as well, maybe going through using the word grief. And I hadn't thought of the loss that people are experiencing in that particular term. That's helpful to me. It helps me to understand how to talk to people I know who are depressed or angry casting it in terms of grief and thinking through the stages of grief and the ways that people might be processing grief. I think it probably improves my own empathy and also gives me a sense of how it could be a help to others.

Derek:   32:35
No, that's good. And we have talked about grief here in our home. I happen to be married to a Marriage and Family Therapist myself and our senior in high school especially, I think, has been dealing with the grief of the loss of that end of the senior year and just feeling like missing prom, missing the senior class trip to Disneyland, missing graduation, just missing friends and the fun times that they would be having as the school year winds to a close. And it really has been a grieving process in our family in this regard. So I particularly resonated with what Monique was saying there, and I appreciate those who have come alongside our daughters to help them during this time. And that brings today's podcast to a close. Again, I'd like to thank Monique Nelson for being our guest today. And Josh Britton, as always for hosting, We welcome you back next time we will have another podcast about distance education during the year of COVID. Thank you all for listening.  

Derek:   33:40
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