As the days creep into the promises of Spring, I am growing increasingly weary of the Education crisis that looms in the distance. As many different systems within society teeter on the edge of collapse, our education sector may be the most vulnerable to crumbling. Teachers are waving their white flags of defeat as the encumbering demands of the invalidating oversight prove to be too heavy to carry. Lines of support for students are stretched all too thin. Children are tumbling into the cracks of mismanagement. Mental health priority has all but faded into the background of distant memories.
Reform rises out of brokenness. As a therapist who dances with systemic dynamics, I am aware of this cycle of building anew. Yet, this knowledge does not give my empathy any comfort for the souls suffering at the expense of a collapsing education system. As sectors decline, the mental health crisis unarguably skyrockets.
Recently, I was informed of an exchange between support staff at a public school and a student. This student had experienced trauma woven throughout their life. While PTSD raged behind this child’s eyes, outwardly, there were no visible indicators of the demons that danced within their memories. Happenstance, triggers at home lowered the child’s window of tolerance for discomfort. Upon arrival to school, it took a simple straw to push the child over their edge of tolerance and into a meltdown. The overworked school staff huffed in exacerbation, interpreting this expression of emotion as lack of compliance. As they approached the child trapped within their feelings with little vocabulary to capture their internal experiences, the adults in the room reinforced a shame-based narrative.
“Use your words.”
“You have to communicate if you want any help from us.”
“You will not speak to me like that.”
Little did the staff know they were using the same trauma-laced language as the child’s abuser.
Now the child went from an emotionally fueled act to a full blown PSTD induced flashback.
The child shut down further. The staff laid on the shame-based language thicker.
Eventually, the child exhausted themselves and crumbled in defeat of invalidation. The school staff enforced consequences of behavior fueled by humanness. Suddenly, the child’s narrative shifts from a cry for help to internalized shame. Trust in the system they spend hours of their life in becomes muddled by embarrassment and confusion.
I cannot tell you how common this interaction pattern is.
Our education systems are desperate for trauma-informed care and language. Now more than ever. The World is still reeling from a Pandemic that exacerbated mental health struggles, amongst other things. Victims were trapped on lockdown with their abusers. Tensions spilled over into chaos. Our society is a battlefield of the invisibly wounded.
As a therapist, it’s within my responsibilities to serve as an advocate. Educational advocacy for our little humans is one of my passions. Despite the defeat I feel as broken systems tower over us, I will march forward. I will use my voice to enhance the stories of the voiceless.
Let’s continue to commit to validating our youth’s experiences. Let’s increase mental health awareness in our schools for students and teachers alike. Let’s fight for the rights and the well-being of those who will run our worlds one day.