During time of high coronavirus anxiety, Butler County students may be suffering

With the coronavirus and things that are coming with it — social distancing, loss of jobs, fears about getting sick, and things people can’t do now — society is entering a period of high anxiety and likely more suicides, based on past tragic events, a local expert says.

“I’d be hard-pressed to give you good data right at this minute, because we’re still in the middle of it, but we can definitely pull on past data and definitely on what we’re hearing from people,” said Kristina Latta-Landefeld of Envision Partnerships, a local non-profit that works to help people live healthy and drug-free lives.

Envision conducts support groups for students in schools. But with schools now closed, with many having their students work from home, its counselors are switching to web-based, virtual group meetings to help students who need counseling, from afar.

One such group meeting, with Hamilton High School students, happened Tuesday.

“Those students were indicating that they’re going stir-crazy, that they are bored, that they feel stuck, that they really are unsure about things,” Latta-Landefeld said.

The group did not include any 12th graders, who may miss out on cherished events of a high-school senior’s final year, including prom and walking across the stage at graduation. High-school seniors every year also face the daunting question of What’s next?

“It’s got to be weighing on them immensely,” Latta-Landefeld said.

Schools stepping in

Fortunately, she said, in districts across Butler County, school counselors “are acting quickly to provide services to their students, virtually.”

At Butler Tech, where March 12 was the last day that students were in the building, counselors and administrators are available for virtual gatherings with students. Using video-conferencing technology that can handle 100 attendees at a time, the school hosted a gathering Wednesday attended by 50.

That added to morale by letting people see friends and chat, said Butler Tech spokeswoman A.J. Huff.

Teachers and counselors can follow students’ work using the Schoology student-learning platform, where teachers post their lessons and class information.

“We also have the ability to see if there’s anyone who’s not logging on, to do their work,” Huff said. “So we’re able to keep track, and check in with those students specifically, to make sure they have everything that they need.”

At Talawanda Schools, “employees are still working, although they are doing so from home,” said district spokeswoman Holli Morrish. “Our counselors are still available via email and in the event that a call needs to occur they can do that.”

Also, “Our people are doing everything in their power to meet the needs of students in a variety of ways, educationally and also meeting needs like food, Internet, etc.,” Morrish said.

Badin High School spokesman Dirk Allen said with students continuing to take classes, but online, teachers are putting out lessons regularly, with teachers and counselors able to be reached by phone or email. Principal Brian Pendergest has sent out several encouraging messages, including one about mental-health concerns.

The school is closed until April 6, although that date may be pushed back.

“We hope to get back before the end of the school year,” Allen said. “We have talked to the students about postponing various things, including the prom, which was set for April 4. We’re going to certainly try to reschedule the prom at some point once we are able, and if worse comes to worst, we’ll have it at Badin High School.”

Depression from a downturn

The coronavirus pandemic is a lot like a natural disaster, said Latta-Landefeld. After the 1913 Great Miami River Flood that struck this region, many listed as having died committed suicide in the aftermath, she said.

“In any sort of crisis like this, suicide rates tend to go up,” she said.

“What we don’t know are all the ripple effects, and for how long they’re going to go on,” she said. While economic development has been good in Hamilton and Middletown, “I’m sure there’s huge amounts of uncertainty,” including for some of the new businesses. With almost any new company, “You teeter no matter what in the first couple of years.”

Antidotes to depression

Latta-Landefeld praised a description of the situation she heard from the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams: Social distancing is not social isolation.

“It goes back to the basics: Kindness matters. Slow down. You’ve got an opportunity here to take a bit of a pause on the normal routines of daily life,” she said.

“In one sense, there’s absolutely increased stress because of uncertainty and fears of health and economic stressors,” she said. “On the other side, it’s forcing us to slow down, which allows us to reflect, spend time with our families, enjoy the outdoors a little bit, because it’s healthy to take walks.”

One way to find volunteer opportunities is Butler County United Way, whose website, bc-unitedway.org, lists various options.

“The Red Cross has been putting out a lot of information about giving blood, and the necessity of that,” Latta-Landefeld said. “There has been research done on the effectiveness of volunteering on mental health, so I would absolutely say that’s an antidote.”

Some ways to prevent suicide

Here are some ways to prevent suicide, and other ways local officials plan to battle it:

People considering suicide, or wanting help fighting any type of drug or alcohol addiction, can call the Butler County Crisis and Heroin Hope Line at 844-427-4747.

If you suspect someone is depressed, don’t be afraid to ask how they are feeling, and whether they’re contemplating suicide. You will not be putting the seed of thought in their minds, experts say.

Also, prevention advocates recommend everybody learns QPR, which is like CPR, but for suicide. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. People learn to Question others about whether they have suicidal thoughts, Persuade them to get professional help, and Refer them to such help. Much like CPR, there are life-saving techniques to that can be learned in 90 minutes. training to their workplace, school, church or civic group by calling Kristen Smith at 513-407-2028 or ksmith@envisionpartnerships.com.

Officials plan to continue having a Walk to Remember annually in Butler County to connect people with suicide resources. Those will be held on Sept. 10, which is World Suicide Prevention Day every year.

Source: Butler County Suicide Prevention and Journal-News research

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