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How School-Based Therapy is Destigmatizing Mental Health

by Lavonna Gregory, School-based Mental Health Therapist

SARASOTA COUNTY, November 12, 2019 – “My family thinks I’m crazy … is there something wrong with me?”.

This is a phrase I’m used to hearing when I take on a new client. As a school-based therapist at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, students who receive a referral for my services often feel singled out, judged, different or just plain ‘weird’.

This is a result of the stigmatization surrounding mental health. Stigmas sometimes impact a child’s ability to engage in sessions, due to the fear of being judged or the feeling that something is wrong with them. As a community, we can help curb those feelings by learning and accepting that mental health exists. Teachers, parents and community members can educate themselves about children’s mental health and the importance of treatment to provide healthy emotional wellness.

Healthy emotional wellness allows us to connect with our feelings and learn healthy ways to communicate them. This approach cultivates emotional awareness, increased self-esteem, academic improvement and better relationships – something every one of us would benefit from!

Most stigmas are centered on a lack of understanding about children’s mental health issues like anger/impulsivity, ADHD, attachment disorders and trauma. Learning to distinguish between mental health and normal child development skills is the key to overcoming them.

As a community, we are already working to combat stigmatization. Sarasota County has school-based therapists in 15 elementary schools; the presence of therapy in a school setting has allowed and promoted open conversations about children’s mental health among students, teachers and parents. The initiative has sparked an interest in learning and implementing healthy, appropriate ways to nurture children’s mental health.

School-based therapists are flexible— they not only provide therapeutic services to children in school, but also in their homes with family members present. Not only is this more convenient for parents, these multigenerational therapy sessions are normalizing the conversation around mental health and what it’s all about.

You can do your part to destigmatize mental health by objectively responding to negative comments. If someone you know is openly stigmatizing mental health, try to engage them in conversation, explaining mental health and treatment from a nonjudgmental perspective. This approach is based on the efforts to remove the stigma, shame, embarrassment, but provide the support and skills that are needed for treatment.

Together, we can normalize mental health. In doing so we will be creating a better world and a better future for our children.

Lavonna Gregory provides school-based mental health services to children and families at Emma E. Booker Elementary. The program, a partnership between the Florida Center for Early Childhood, Sarasota County Schools and Community Foundation of Sarasota County, is meant to keep high-risk children in school and help them meet their academic milestones through multi-generational therapy for the students and their families.