BOLIVAR, Mo. — A new study from Mental Health America indicates that 15.08 percent of young children have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. The full report states that more than two million young people in the United States suffer from serious depression. In addition, the number of young children with a major depressive episode has increased by 306,000 over the past year.
With all of this in mind, OzarksFirst discovered a new effort to help high school students in Bolivar.
Bolivar High School added a new class this school year called “Foundations of Wellness.” Through the course of a semester, students learn to recognize, understand, label and express their emotions. Geana Stokes and Amber Dlugosh teach the program.
“With COVID and a complete disruption of normal school routines, we’ve seen an increase in mental health issues,” Dlugosh said. “The children were alone. When you’re alone at home, you don’t have many tools in your tool belt to know, “How can I regulate a whole global upheaval?” We realized, ‘Oh. We need to give them those skills so that when they are on their own they know what to do without the guidance of teachers and staff here.
Stokes says what students learn is crucial to their mental health.
“For students their age, when they are already struggling with their identity and many other things that happen in high school, I feel very fortunate to work for a district that is willing to give time and efforts to our students in those ways,” Stokes said. “I think that’s one of the greatest things we could have done for them.”
During the course, students like Kodey Buxbaum also learn what’s going on with the chemicals in your brain that are constantly creating emotions.
“It helps me be more relaxed, more gentle,” Buxbaum said. “If something bad happens, I can just say, ‘I have to take a minute and then I can go back to doing everything normally.
Through repetition and self-exercises, Buxbaum tells OzarksFirst that he figured out how to control himself when he’s angry.
“My dad says my anger issues are much better,” Buxbaum said. “I will still get angry but I can leave. I think for a few minutes, ‘Why am I so angry about this?’ And just being able to simmer it a bit. Lots of mindfulness practice.
Sophomore Merolais Kandar says she’s made staying positive a routine.
“Every day I would wake up and look for little things throughout the day that would hold me back or make me happy,” Kandar said. “It meant a lot because it’s really the little things you don’t notice. I was definitely stressed out about school. I was dealing with a bit of anxiety and learning to deal with that definitely helped me.
After taking the class, Kandar tells OzarksFirst that she realized something about her classmates.
“Everyone thinks people are perfect all the time, but hearing how they would talk about their lives and their emotions made me feel safe,” Kandar said. “I really thought you had it all together, but we’re the same.”