Krista Flanagan


One of the most common threads running through our lives these days is conversation and discourse about mental illness, both personally and collectively.

The statistics speak to this prevalence. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. For children, 1 in 5 will have a seriously debilitating mental illness in their lifetime.

While these numbers are disheartening and the human toll behind them is heartbreaking, there is light in that we now speak more openly about what we should do to help those with mental illness and what more we can do to promote mental health.

At a recent Oregon School District board meeting, while sharing an update on the district’s mental health initiatives, supports and services, Director of Student Services Dr. Shannon Anderson spoke about the importance of continuing to elevate the thinking about mental health. “We all have physical health; we all have mental health.

Every one of us, from infancy to adulthood, and it’s something that affects the way that we think, the way that we feel and the way that we act. It’s dynamic and it is fluid … it’s all a part of who we are.”

It also has a profound impact on how well our kids are able to learn and grow. The Oregon School District, hand-in-hand with our community, has been a Wisconsin leader in funding, partnering, staffing, and supporting mental health by integrating within all schools a focus on promoting mental wellness, helping our kids develop skills that build resilience, as well as early intervention and expanding access to support and treatment services.

This integration is stated explicitly in the first of the school board’s strategic priorities: “To advance the academic growth and readiness, and physical and emotional well-being of each student.” The objective is that students of all ages not only exhibit the competencies necessary to meet standards, but they are also able to recognize what they are thinking and how they are feeling, and then develop strategies for their own well-being.

Through this commitment to well-being, students are more capable of academic achievement. Without it, they are limited.

Some have asked why schools have entered the arena of mental health initiatives, support, and services. The Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health (OCMH), a state agency charged with studying, recommending strategies, and coordinating initiatives to support Wisconsin’s children in achieving their optimal social and emotional well-being, provided a research-based answer.

OCMH analyzed a multitude of health behaviors, social and economic factors, and quality of life data from the last five years to develop benchmark indicators that are key to helping kids thrive.

After grading each indicator as to whether Wisconsin is going in the wrong direction, right direction, or no change over the last five years, and analyzing the data comparatively with current U.S. data, OCMH landed on a single, yet comprehensive strategic focus. OCMH Director Linda Hall stated, “What’s the one thing that could make a difference in the mental health and well-being of Wisconsin’s young people today? Our answer is social connectedness.”

Social connectedness is when youth are actively engaged in positive relationships where they feel they belong, are safe, cared for, valued, and supported. Furthermore, OCMH pointed to the one place where 95% of all Wisconsin youth (5-17 years old) are socially connected and spend the majority of their days. School.

According to OCMH, this is why schools should be involved. Strengthening student mental health in school fosters overall health, improves learning, attendance, and engagement, and reduces bullying, risky behaviors, and violence. In essence, it benefits each of our students, the school as a whole, and the larger community.

Helping our kids cultivate meaningful connections and resiliency, and get help when needed, is important and hard work. It takes all of us, our schools, and our “villages.” It’s also well worth the effort.

If you or someone you care about needs assistance, please contact your child’s principal or OSD student services (if an OSD student). You can also text HOPELINE to 741-741 which offers emotional support and resources before situations rise to a crisis level or call, text, or chat 988 to connect to the suicide and crisis line.

Krista Flanagan is a long-time Oregon resident and a board member of FOSD and the Oregon School District. The views expressed in this column are her own, and not expressly endorsed or sponsored by the Oregon School Board.

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