By Abby Betz, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Now that our youngest children are back in school, it is time to start thinking about college-aged students returning to campus. We spend lots of time preparing our youngsters for going “back to school,” but what about our college students? Are we preparing our young adults for what lies ahead of them in the real world?

Not only is it important for these students to prepare themselves for the responsibilities of living independently, but it is also important for college-aged students to think about protecting their emotional well-being before they even set foot on campus.

Many college students have thought of the necessities needed for school – computers, mini fridges, parking passes, and other supplies. But have these students and their parents considered what tools they may need to support themselves on an emotional level?

In a 2017 survey by WebMD and the JED Foundation, 40 percent of over 700 guardians and parents said they did not discuss the potential for developing either anxiety or depression with their children getting ready to attend college. Additionally, most parents reported access to on-campus mental health services was not a factor in choosing a school for their child.

Unfortunately, many teenage and college-aged students struggle with their mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 high school students have experienced feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness. 

These problems do not seem to go away once they arrive on campus. Continued studies are showing a decline in mental health across the country among college students. Experts recommend that parents and students take the necessary steps to ensure they have a plan to address mental health issues if they arise.

It is vital for a student with already existing mental health disorders to connect with a counselor prior to arriving on campus. However, it could be beneficial for any student to contact the counseling center and become educated on services provided if needed. It is also important to be aware of other supportive services being offered, such as tutoring, academic advising, student activities, and career services.

Extracurricular activities and clubs also help students connect with others and create a sense of belonging to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Students should also be mindful of how they eat, sleep, and socialize. If basic needs are neglected, this can make developing a healthy lifestyle more difficult and lead to a decline in mental health.

Discussing alcohol consumption and setting healthy boundaries is another important conversation that parents need to have with their college-aged children to help them be mentally prepared for new situations.

The transition from high school to college can be life changing and challenging. Students and parents must work together to create a plan that best fits the needs of each student. This plan should include a mental health checklist to protect the emotional well-being of the student. Prioritizing mental health should be something we all strive to achieve.

By Heather Miller, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Sometimes anxiety happens without much warning. One minute everything is fine. The next minute, “what- ifs” can become all consuming. 

Typically, teens and adults have a smartphone readily accessible. It may be feasible to grab your phone and try the following tips to help manage anxiety.

  1. Set reminders. For an individual who has anxious thoughts, being proactive is nearly as important as being reactive. Set reminders on your phone with positive self-affirmations. The frequency can be determined by how often they are needed. has suggested affirmations to help get started, such as “I inhale peace and exhale worry.” Using your phone’s calendar app, set up positive self-affirmations to pop up as notifications throughout the day.
  1. Use a timer. Studies show that anxiety typically peaks 10 minutes into an episode. Within 20 minutes, the most intense anxiety symptoms have passed. Amid the emotion, time can feel like it is standing still. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes. During this time, give yourself permission to feel anxious while practicing deep breathing, positive self-talk, or other healthy coping skills. Remind yourself that this feeling is not permanent and it will pass. Once the timer goes off, take a few more deep breaths and move forward with the day.
  1. Write down your worries. Anxiety has the power to distort rational thinking. Often, anxiety leads to fearing dismal outcomes for everyday situations. When a worry pops up, take a minute to document it on a Notes page. Write down the worry and feared outcome. At the end of the day, review the list. How many turned out to be true? Typically, not very many at all. Use this as proof that most anxiety distortions are not cemented in truth.
  1. Distract yourself. Often worries are rooted in fear of what cannot be controlled. There may not be a single thing that can change our inability to control an outcome. Rather than sitting in fear, play a game on your phone to serve as a distraction. Our brains are not wired to truly multi-task. If we focus on a game or another distraction that makes us think, our brains will turn off the task of worrying, at least temporarily.

Anxiety is a natural part of life and serves a purpose. However, if anxiety becomes too frequent or intense, working with a mental health professional may be helpful. If you feel as though you or your child are experiencing frequent and intense anxiety, please reach out to your school’s Youth First Social Worker. They can help link you with resources for learning to manage anxiety as well as assist in supporting your child.

By Lisa Glahn, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

From time to time, we all have the need to burn off energy; some more than others. Personally, I tend to click my pens, bounce my legs, and tap my feet. Sometimes I am not even aware that I am fidgeting until someone calls my attention to it. This can be distracting to my coworkers in the room but helps me focus and concentrate. In a school setting these tendencies can be particularly distracting for a student’s classmates.

Recently while working with a student, I suggested a fidget to help him regulate his emotions. He declined because he didn’t want a toy. While some of these fidgets look like toys, they are actually therapeutic devices. Fidgets are handheld devices that help with self-regulation and focus and allow people to better cope with feelings of boredom, anxiety, and agitation. Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may find that fidgets can distract them from the symptoms of their condition.

Fidgets come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be popped, stretched, squeezed, spun, snapped, etc. Teens may prefer fidgets that are discreet, small enough to be held in one hand or in the student’s pocket. They even make stainless steel options for teens who don’t want a childish looking fidget. I have students who wear fidget jewelry such as bracelets, rings, and necklaces with a variety of sensory inputs that look very stylish and can be made in metals that don’t turn the skin green.

There are so many different fidget devices, and you will want to try different types. You don’t have to spend a lot of money either. You can order from Amazon or even find them at Dollar Tree. Just keep in mind that it needs to be therapeutic for your child and not negatively affect their attention. 

In addition, the devices must not be disruptive to the classroom or to fellow classmates. I have found mixed reviews in the research on fidgets, but I think that if you find something that works for your child, talk to the teacher to see if they will allow it in the classroom.  

My students have named me the “Fidget Master,” and I am quite proud of that title. As a school social worker for Youth First, I use a variety of these devices with students in my sessions with them. I am always on the lookout for the newest and the latest versions and rotate them so the students won’t get bored. I play with a fidget in sessions, too. Using the fidgets alongside the student shows them it’s a safe place to try them and that adults use them too.

By Lori Powell, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

As I prepared for my school day on August 10, 2022, the sun was shining and the temperature was warm. I was excited to greet students with the last names starting with K-Z at Vogel Elementary School in Evansville, IN. It felt like a normal first day of school, but it would turn out to be anything but normal. That afternoon we suddenly heard a loud boom, which caused the entire school building to shake.

Some of the staff thought the sound was a car crash or a tree falling. I could see smoke coming from the west but did not know the location. After a short time, the scary noise was determined to be a house explosion in the 1000 block of Weinbach Avenue in Evansville. This location is only a few blocks from Vogel Elementary School. Sadly, three people did not survive the tragedy.

I immediately experienced multiple thoughts and feelings; however, I knew that my primary focus was to help the Vogel students, parents, and staff feel safe by being there to answer their questions and concerns.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.” These situations can include natural disasters, death, abuse, or accidents. Student, parent, and staff reactions to the explosion last year ranged from shock to anxiety, sadness, and fear. Many people cried, and several parents picked up their children from school early to comfort them and ensure their safety.

I personally felt terrified and worried, because my mother lives very close to the house that exploded. My brain was stuck in these two emotions for the remainder of the day. I knew what I was experiencing was trauma, but at the time I was only functioning moment by moment.

When I drive on Weinbach or Hercules Avenue, I can still see the devastation from the explosion. My mother’s house still needs a few repairs, but it is mostly completed. The good news is that she was able to stay in her home.

Even though time has moved forward and we are now in a new school year, the explosion continues to affect people’s lives. Many of the students at Vogel are still processing feelings related to this traumatic event. When these difficult experiences happen, it is very important to utilize positive coping skills, even if time has passed since the traumatic event.

Good ways to cope with trauma include talking about your feelings, continuing healthy routines and behaviors, and seeking out professional mental health resources and care if needed. Some positive coping skills that can be useful are deep breathing, positive self-talk, eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting the correct amount of sleep.

If you feel like your child has experienced unresolved issues related to trauma, you can seek out a Youth First Social Worker at their school or contact your primary care physician to determine the best way to address their needs. 

By Camryn Cater, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Emotional communication is a key component in our lives. It helps us form relationships and make connections with family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. As children learn to emotionally connect and communicate with others, they are building emotional skillsets that will help them develop relationships for the rest of their lives.

Families with healthy emotional communication practices allow children to develop better coping mechanisms to overcome communication challenges. However, when families unconsciously or consciously dismiss their child’s emotions, they invalidate their child’s needs and thoughts. This parenting practice can lead to children developing less emotional intelligence and pave the way to mental health issues, including increased chances of anxiety, depression, and lack of empathy.

As easy as it is to ignore, downplay, or get frustrated with your child’s emotions, grownups must understand that children have thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and worries that need to be heard. From an adult’s perspective these feelings may seem small, but to a child, they are immense. Talk to your child about their emotions and use the conversation as an opportunity to grow your parent/child relationship.

Grownups can introduce positive emotional communication practices to kids by using emotional language such as “I feel” messages. Using this type of language encourages kids to follow your lead and learn to communicate their needs effectively. Another simple way to introduce emotional communication is through reading books or watching videos with characters who model positive emotional communication. Visuals with scales of emotions can also help your child clearly pinpoint what range of emotion they are feeling when it may be too difficult to describe in words.

Another good way to help kids express themselves is by facilitating dialogue about how certain activities, people, places, foods, etc. make them feel. For example, you could ask your child, “How did it make you feel when you were on stage for your program today?” This type of open-ended question allows time for your child to identify and process their own feelings and opinions. Making this a routine at the end of each day creates a space where your child knows they feel safe and understood.

These simple tasks carried out in your home can ultimately improve your relationship with your child and give you a sense of what you can do to meet your child’s emotional needs. This can boost your child’s mental health, decrease behavioral issues, and promote emotional empathy.