Creating a Path to Resilience: The MAASE Conference 2018 discusses the importance of mental health

Katarina Kovac, Campus Editor

Addressing mental health and toxic stress in the lives of children and students has become increasingly important.

Manager of Academic Accountability at OU Shawna Boomgaard and Title One Director at Dove Academy of Detroit Melissa Lopez (CTP-E) presented, “Creating a Path to Resilience” at the Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education (MAASE) in Traverse City, Mich.

The title of the presentation, “Creating a Path to Resilience,” includes information provided by the National Trauma and Loss Center and explains the history of trauma and how toxic stress in children can cause long-term effects.

Boomgaard is a licensed clinical social worker (LMSW) and a certified trauma practitioner/trainer (CTP). She has been a school social worker and clinical practitioner for over 18 years.

The presentation was developed for practitioners to use with children who are living in a constant state of toxic stress.

“Instead of asking a child what happened, it focuses on their lives now,” Boomgaard said. “Throughout our presentation, there were activities where we focused on the process of moving traumatized youth between themes of trauma and feelings of connection, resilience and strength. The activities integrate mind-body skills and expressive art that provide children with a platform to be an active participant in their healing.”

Stress is a normal and necessary part of life, but the critical difference is that toxic stress is the re-occurring negative experiences that threaten one’s safety or security. Within the presentation, Boomgaard was able to address the impact of trauma and toxic stress and how it can impact one’s physical and emotional health.

“Be a safe person; form positive relationships, teach children self-regulation skills, practice mindfulness/meditation and lastly, provide resources or referrals to mental health professionals trained in this area when necessary,” she said.

Although there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness in our culture, it is becoming increasingly acceptable.

“If someone has asthma, would you deny them their inhaler? If someone has diabetes, would you deny them insulin? It is similar with mental health issues,” Boomgaard said. “If someone is suffering from depression and anxiety, getting help should be completely normal and acceptable. It is how people learn to cope with and manage the stress in their lives that ultimately makes a difference.

Director of the OU Counseling Center David Schwartz Ph.D, believes that any type of stress can have the same negative effect physically and emotionally on us.

“We need to start preventing stress,” he said. “The problem is that with each passing generation, research seems to show that our coping skills are going down and that stress is going up. There are really good, healthy coping skills that if learned from a young age, can be immensely helpful.”

Within Schwartz’s research, he has been able to conclude that we have to be able to look out for ourselves first in order to help other people, which leads to self-care becoming a high priority.

“When we talk about significant or severe anxiety, the lifetime incident rate is 75 percent for the entire population,” Schwartz said. “The vast majority of people are going to experience anxiety and stress, so it is important to know that you are certainly not alone.”

Activities like meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, journaling or speaking with a therapist can help those dealing with stress or anxiety. The OU Counseling Center offers students six free sessions, with low rates following the sixth session.