Letter: ‘Why is our children’s mental health of little concern to our school boards?’

Washougal resident Brad Maas asks why ‘is student mental health no longer a priority?’

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com 

I wanted to continue the dialogue regarding the deteriorating mental health of your students and our children. One in four people age 18-24 surveyed by the CDC this summer have seriously considered suicide and/or increased substance use in the last 30 days. These numbers are not likely to get better. Children cannot heal in the same environment where they become sick.

Brad Maas Washougal
Brad Maas Washougal

The students in the school districts cannot be divided into a suicidal category and a “fine” category. The vast majority of the students fall somewhere in between. Although I appreciate the districts’ efforts to email parents anti-suicide materials, it doesn’t scratch the surface of the hardships these kids are facing. 

I shake my head in disgust when an adult invalidates students’ feelings by inaccurately telling them depression is temporary and not as important as COVID. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 50 percent of people with depression will have a relapse at some point in their lives. People with two episodes of depression have an 80 percent chance of a third. Anyone that says depression is temporary is naïve and misinformed.

I understand that districts have hope that we can return to normal in the near future. I am asking the districts to please, please stop giving this false hope to our kids. You are actually doing more harm than good. Dr. Delicia Mclean, psychologist of Austin, TX, describes this phenomenon as “resilience fatigue.” 

Many people have the mindset that, if I can just make it until ________, I can push through. That blank is the possibility of a spring semester, a football season, a track season, a band concert, a drama performance. These are things that adults describe as trivial, but are absolutely paramount to children. However that “make-it-until” can, keeps getting kicked down the road. 

Mclean describes this as a “violation of expectation.” “When combined with a substandard quality of life during the pandemic, false hope adds to increased resilience fatigue, burnout and powerlessness.” Adults struggle with this, so why do we kick these kids when they’re down and expect them to handle it better? Dr. Mclean says it is harmful to have a moving target for students. Therefore, I beg school districts, please don’t give students false hope.

That being said, I actually appreciate the honesty from the teachers union. The union leaders have been crystal clear that they do not want to be anywhere near our children. By being honest, there is no violation of expectation as described above. I know several teachers that are in favor of in-person instruction, but never publicly express these opinions because of the fear of being bullied. I have been a union member for over 20 years. I understand why the teachers that are passionate about teaching; the teachers that love our kids, are reluctant to speak up. WEA President Larry Delaney publicly celebrated that Governor Inslee heard him loud and clear — the fix was in!

The districts contribute to resilience fatigue. In contrast, the union thinks contributing to student hopelessness is a better strategy.

Stanford Professor Dr. David Burns describes hopelessness as getting so frozen in the pain of the present, that you forget entirely that you ever felt better in the past, and find it inconceivable that you might feel better in the future. With every passing day, our children are forgetting that they ever felt better in the past. 

The teachers union confirms that it will do everything possible to keep kids in the torturous present, and there is no chance for a better future. I ask that the districts and the union agree on whether resilience fatigue or hopelessness will result in the fewest cases of mental illness and suicides. What is the common strategy?

As I mentioned, I have been a proud union member for two decades. I did not have the option of working from home. As an employee of an “essential” industry, I literally interacted with tens of thousands of customers this year, something that brings me enormous pride. Never once was I scared. I wore a mask. I was cautious, but never fearful. My union and my management team worked in tandem to create a mutually beneficial solution that provides incredible customer service while keeping our frontline employees safe. So safe, in fact, that the COVID positivity rate of my frontline coworkers is significantly lower than the national average.

Now, I have witnessed numerous efforts from the teachers union to stay locked down indefinitely, but I have yet to hear ideas from the union about how to get our children back in the classroom. A zero-risk solution is never possible. Mental health issues are putting your students and our children in grave danger. I would like an official statement explaining why a student’s life has less value than an adult’s life. 

According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, September 2020 enrollment dropped 2.8 percent compared to September 2019. Many more students have left Washington public schools since September. How optimistic are districts that future levies will pass? Levies in Green Mountain, Hockinson, La Center, Washougal and Woodland school districts barely passed with 53-56 percent of residents voting in favor. It takes less than 3 percent of the residents to change their vote from yes to no for levies to fail. Did the residents get their money’s worth on the last operations levy?

I believe many students are suffering, and a common response from adults is shaming. This needs to stop! Please stop invalidating the feelings and mental health of our children. Districts are asking them to deal with a psychological situation that many adults cannot handle. Please work toward a solution to get these kids back to in-person learning immediately. Otherwise be honest, and let students know as soon as possible that their education and mental health are not your highest priorities.

Brad Maas

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