By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – June 30, 2021 –

The numbers are staggering. According to the CDC, 61% of adults in the United States endured an adverse childhood experience in their youth. Childhood trauma comes in a variety of forms. It can be caused by divorced or incarcerated parents, death of a parent or caretaker, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, substance abuse in the home, mental illness, and poverty.

Why does this matter? Adverse childhood experiences can affect short term and long term physical and emotional health. Childhood trauma also negatively affects development. Children who experience toxic stress on a continuous basis cannot develop properly without the help and intervention of caring adults.

In short, when we experience prolonged toxic stress in childhood such as abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, our brains cannot thrive and grow. Unfortunately, if these problems are not treated, they can eventually lead to significant physical and mental health problems later in life. 

Children who have experienced trauma are in a constant battle with their physiological flight/fight/freeze response. Many children who experience this do not have parents or adults at home to help them feel safe. These children need adults or trusted authority figures outside of their home to help give them a sense of safety and security. 

Schools are uniquely positioned to play an important role in a child’s life. Teachers, school administrators, social workers and school staff have the opportunity to be role models for students if they don’t have positive influences at home. Children who have just one positive adult in their life are much more likely to thrive and be resilient later in life.

Now that we know childhood trauma is a serious and pervasive problem in America, it is important to know how to mitigate the damage. I recently completed an excellent training on Trauma Informed Resilient Schools by STARR Commonwealth. In the training, they recommended steps to take into the classroom to help students with trauma.

STARR recommends providing students with security, structure, and consistency to minimize anxiety and reduce instances of flight/fight response in students. When students are in a flight/fight/freeze response, they cannot focus on learning. STARR noted that students test better and teachers have more job satisfaction when trauma protocols are in place.

If students have a positive environment at school, it helps them weather the storms of their personal lives. Having rituals and routines that make students feel connected and welcome at school increases their engagement within a healthy environment. It is also important for adults to be aware of possible triggers that students could be having in the classroom in response to noise, raised voices, or lack of structure.

I am hopeful that although trauma is a significant problem in our culture, adults and educators can have a significant impact on children’s lives by being nurturing and emotionally available to children in need. 

By Amber Russell, LCSW – June 22, 2021-

The words empathy and sympathy are often grouped together or used interchangeably, but they mean two very different things. According to the dictionary, sympathy means: “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Empathy, on the other hand, means: “The ability to understand another person’s feelings, experiences, etc.”  

We cannot fix all of the problems we come across, but we can make active choices to empathize with those who are going through a hard time. Empathizing with others is sometimes more valuable than finding solutions to their problems. At some point all of us need someone to validate our feelings and sit in the darkness with us when we are having bad days. 

For example, if someone tells you they are struggling with something, you may respond with sympathy and say something like, “I’m so sorry you are going through this.” If you were to respond with empathy, you might instead make an effort to relate to them. You could say something like, “That’s really tough. I’ve gone through something similar.”  

How can we work to help ourselves and our kids become more empathic? The first key is to be always present and actively listen. Setting an example by giving others your full attention and working to truly understand what they are experiencing is a great start. Try not to listen to others’ problems just so you can offer solutions.  

The next way we can respond with more empathy is not to judge or assume that we know how someone feels. Just because we reacted to a past situation in a specific way doesn’t mean that others will respond the same way. Ask them how they feel, ask them to tell you more, and ask them how you can help. 

A great way to help kiddos develop empathy is to encourage them to identify their own emotions as they arise. This will help them imagine how others might feel and allow them to contemplate how other people’s emotions may be different from theirs. 

Another way to instill empathy in children is by expanding their horizons. Expose them to different types of people with different backgrounds, views, and perspectives. Story books, TV shows, and movies are a great way to do this. Use books and shows with different characters in them to discuss how certain characters might feel and why.  

Mastering the art of using empathy doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice to truly understand others. Working to express this type of empathy fosters a deeper connection and will allow you to more readily step into another person’s shoes.   

On June 18, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation presented $78,574 to Youth First, Inc. The grant provided HIPAA-compliant Zoom licenses and certification training in telehealth for Youth First’s mental health professionals.  

Youth First partners with 92 schools across 11 Indiana counties. Youth First Social Workers follow behavioral health best practices to proactively meet with individual students, facilitate small groups, and present to classrooms and large groups as well as consult with parents, teachers, and other community agencies. They are easily accessed by any enrolled student, and services are always free of charge. When school buildings closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis, this low-barrier access to crucial mental health support was threatened.  

Thanks to the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation grant, Youth First has now equipped its clinical team with HIPAA-compliant telehealth tools and training to continue their critical work. Through this funding, their proven model of building life skills for mental health resilience and brokering community resources to meet basic needs can continue, if and when school buildings are closed, or students or staff are quarantined or ill. These telehealth tools allowed Youth First’s services and programs to be delivered uninterrupted this past school year, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. These virtual platforms will continue to be used in situations where services can’t be delivered in person.  

“The Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is proud to work with community partners like Youth First to overcome barriers to accessing mental and behavioral health services for our local youth,” said Dr. Kimberly Roop, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Medicaid Plan President in Indiana. “We continue to support telehealth as an important part of a whole-health approach to care, connecting people with mental health services in the way that is most convenient for them.” 

“Though COVID-19 severely disrupted our lives, it also sparked improvements in the way Youth First serves schools, students, and families,” said Parri O. Black, President & CEO of Youth First. “This investment from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation ensures Youth First can provide high-quality remote support for thousands of young people whenever it is needed.” 

In Indiana, data from the State of the Nation’s Mental Health report shows significantly fewer mental health diagnoses last year, particularly among children and adolescents, compared to 2019.  

  • 10 percent overall drop for young children 
  • 5 percent overall drop for adolescents  
  • 13 percent drop for young children diagnosed with ADHD 
  • 9 percent drop for adolescents diagnosed with ADHD 

These findings are part of a report based on Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield claims from 1.8 million Hoosiers. 

By Aisha Givens, LCSW – June 16, 2021 –

As parents, we often worry about our children. It’s part of the job. We worry when they are young and continue to worry as they grow into teenagers and adults. Being concerned about your child is a healthy and appropriate feeling. However, constant or excessive worrying can be detrimental to both parent and child. This is known as parental paranoia.

Parental paranoia is constant supervision of a child. This type of paranoia often leads parents to limit their child’s activities to ensure that an adult is always present to observe and control the child’s behavior. This kind of attention can suppress creativity and prevents independent thinking. It can also negatively affect a child’s personal relationships later in life.

When I was a child, my parents gave us rules, but many of us freely wandered our neighborhoods. This was just another part of growing up. I remember walking to the store at least three blocks away at the age of four with my five-year-old brother and his five-year-old friend. 

“Adult geographic solidarity,” or lack thereof, plays a role in the parental paranoia we see in today’s society. We all know the saying, “It takes a village.” The village in the past was usually made up of family members and friends who all lived in the same neighborhood. This gave children the opportunity to freely roam, like I used to when I was a child.

Since extended families generally no longer share backyards or neighborhoods, it leaves today’s parents without the reassurance that their children are safely in the hands of other trusted adults.

These days, most parents don’t allow the same freedoms to their children that many of us enjoyed when we were young. The world has changed so much since then. When my girls were eleven years old and wanted to go the mall for the first time without me, my immediate thought was “Are they going to be safe?”

All of us have these questions about safety. They are normal and healthy responses to perceived risk. However, it is important to remember that in our constantly modernizing world, children are much safer today than during our childhoods.

Today’s most common parenting styles require parents to be observant about safety, which is a good thing in moderation. Most socialization is organized in the form of sports teams, play dates, and extracurricular activities.

These activities are wonderful ways for children to form bonds with each other without direct adult supervision. Make an effort to take a step back in situations like these and take comfort in the fact that don’t you have to worry.  

Ultimately, you want your children to be responsible, respected, and successful. Too much parental observation can add to a child’s stress and anxiety and take away opportunities for children to gain independence. Hovering and micromanaging reduces their ability to lead their own lives.

Strive to find a balance and allow your children the space to learn and grow independently from you. Think about what will happen when it’s time for them to leave home. Will they be ready to face the world, having been protected from it throughout their lives?

Childhood is meant to provide an emotionally secure grounding and a space for freedom, play, and learning from mistakes. Give your children that space and freedom to become their best selves.

By Teresa Mercer, LCSW, LCAC – June 9, 2021 –

Throughout the last year, the impact of a global pandemic has increased stress levels for people all over the world. Although pre-pandemic life had its fair share of stressors, Covid-19 introduced a new form of stress that many of us weren’t prepared to cope with.   

This type of negative stress has made it difficult for people to bounce back and return to their normal routines. Effects of prolonged stress can negatively impact a person spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Many people will continue to feel these effects, possibly for a long time after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.  

There are different ways to look at stress. It’s important to remember that not all of the stress we experience is necessarily bad. Good/positive stress can occur in the absence of a perceived threat or fear. We often experience good stress during times when we feel energetic or excited about something.  

We actually need good stress because it allows us to maintain a healthy outlook. Positive stress can motivate us and keep us working toward healthy goals. Think about completing a project for work, studying for an exam or playing sports. These positive stressors help keep us focused on succeeding in our endeavors.   

Another type of stress is daily stress, which is the “normal” stress of daily life. Going to work, paying bills, taking care of the family, and managing household chores are examples of daily stress. This type of stress probably sounds familiar because everyone experiences it to some extent on a daily basis. It can fluctuate between more and less stressful, but it is always there.  

Bad stress is another type of stress which can be broken down into two categories: acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress can be caused by a traumatic event such as a sudden death, serious injury, or unexpected occurrence. Remember the concept of flight, fight, or freeze? These reactions usually happen during times of acutely stressful situations.  

Chronic stress is when we have recurring stress that lasts over a long period of time. Things like strained relationships, unfulfilling jobs, and illnesses can create chronic stress. Over time, chronic stress can become unmanageable and may lead to other serious issues. 

How do we determine if the stress we are experiencing in light of the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming an unhealthy burden? First, look for negative emotions and feelings related to the pandemic. This can feel like a prolonged sense of fear, anger, anxiety, confusion, depression, grief, lack of motivation, and hopelessness.  

While these emotions are all a normal part of life, it is important to cultivate methods for coping with chronic stress when we notice symptoms persisting for extended periods of time. Some great ways to combat chronic stress include exercise, journaling, positive self-talk, keeping up with a routine, committing to a healthy lifestyle, and developing good eating habits. 

Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Spend time with people who are positive, those who can laugh with you, and those who can relate to your stress and triggers.  

By Grace Wilson, MSW – June 3, 2021 – 

In a world that is constantly on the go and filling our family’s schedules with various activities, it is important that we take time to slow down and spend quality one-on-one time with our children.  

If you have multiple children, take time to spend individual time with each one. Our attention is so often divided between many different tasks, relationships, and worries that we often forget to give devoted time to each child.  

Simply carving out even 10-15 minutes a day to spend with your child will transform your relationship. This works for children of all ages, but the sooner you start implementing this time together, the more easily it will become a part of everyday life.  

Create a list of activities to do together. Some ideas include going on a walk in your neighborhood or local park, painting pictures, baking a treat, playing board games, or reading a book together.  

When you are spending time with your child, all phones and other distractions should be put away. It is important that this time spent together is child driven. You should let them choose the activity and engage in it with them. Let them “run the show” as long as it is something you can feasibly do. 

This one-on-one time is beneficial for the long term mental health of both parent and child. Building strong personal bonds from a young age will enrich a child’s life in the following ways. 

1.     One-on-one time builds confidence and self-esteem. When your child has additional opportunities to express themselves within a loving environment, their confidence increases. Take this time to encourage creativity, imagination, and other positive traits you see in your child. 

2.     Your child will be more apt to open up to you. Extra time spent together gives your child the chance to communicate with you about their thoughts and emotions, good and bad. 

3.     Children will learn to develop positive habits. Kids are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drugs and alcohol when they have open and positive relationships with parents and caregivers. Forming healthy bonds at home can also boost academic performance and engagement at school.  

Although our lives often seem hectic in the moment, the rewards of spending quality time with your children will last for years to come. These times together will feel like a special treat and provide perfect opportunities to build lasting traditions and create memories together.