MHANYS recently sent out our quarterly newsletter geared to educators,
parents and students about mental health in schools. This most recent
update includes strategies for coping with Seasonal Affective Disorders.
Though this article references the holiday season, it is every bit as
relevant throughout the winter months. Other articles include update on the
Mental Health in Schools Legislation, social media sites, information about
therapy dogs and a brief primer about problem gambling in schools (more
about that in an upcoming addition).
If you would like more information or want to be added to the distribution
list, please contact MHANYS Public Policy Director, John Richter at
January 2018, Issue 7
This newsletter is for educators, parents, and students about mental
health in schools. The information contained in this is intended for
reuse. Please share and give credit to MHANYS.
Those ‘Holiday Blues’ Could be Seasonal Affective Disorder
As predictable around the winter holidays as Christmas music in malls the
day after Thanksgiving, are ‘Holiday Blues’ articles and news segments.
Invariably each year, the subject of depression around the holidays is
rerun as much as “It’s a Wonderful Life” with requisite interviews of
psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. Yet, as valid as the
‘Holiday Blues’ phenomenon is, including anxiety and stress that occur
during this part of the calendar year, it’s essential to recognize and
differentiate so-called ‘Holiday Blues’ from Seasonal Affective Disorder
Central to this understanding is that SAD is not just an older person’s
illness; it actually inflicts young people between the ages of 15 and 55
the most. Even though the median age of onset for SAD is 27, symptoms can
begin as early as 15 years of age. In other words, be careful not to
assume that symptoms of depression and anxiety that present in a young
person at this time of year are necessarily due to the ‘Holiday Blues.’
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) uses the
following criteria to identify or diagnose depression with a seasonal
pattern (i.e. SAD):
– Depression that ends during a specific season every year for at least
– No episodes of depression during the season in which you experience a
normal mood for at least two years
– Many more seasons of depression than seasons without depression over
the lifetime of your illness
In children and adolescents, these symptoms may look different. The usual
signs of sadness like tearfulness for example may instead present as
irritability or aggression. Instead of observed fatigue, children or
adolescents experiencing a depressive episode may be viewed as being “lazy”
by their parents or teachers. Concentration problems or indecisiveness
that adults with depression experience may be misattributed in children and
adolescents as inattentive or disruptive.
Viewing children and adolescents with SAD as being lazy, disruptive, or
irritable may be even more common. If a young person is experiencing these
signs year-round, parents and teachers may find it easier to identify
depression as the underlying cause. However, a youth who only displays
these symptoms from November to March may be seen as a child who just
doesn’t like school and isn’t putting in the effort.
People living in states like New York are at higher risk because the
incidence of SAD increases in northern latitudes. For example, Florida has
the lowest rate of SAD at 1.4% of the population while New York’s close
neighbor New Hampshire has the highest rate in the continental U.S. at 9.7%
incidence level. This correlates closely with cities that have the darkest
winters. One study ranked the New York cities of Buffalo, Syracuse and
Rochester as having the 7th, 8th, and 10th darkest winters respectively.
Increased depression and anxiety around the winter holidays is by no means
a trivial subject even though it does receive its fair share of attention
at this time of the year. It is for many people a legitimate source of
distress. Differentiating between ‘Holiday Blues’ and SAD, however, has
important implications for understanding what a young person is
experiencing and the appropriate therapeutic approach. According to NIMH,
the four major types of treatment for Sad are medication, light therapy,
psychotherapy and vitamin D. Alternatively, articles like the one here
by the American Academy of Pediatrics offer useful suggestions for how to help
young people navigate the feelings and emotions that can accompany the
What Dogs Teach us about Compassion, Connection, and Comfort
You’ve probably seen it too many times, the child off to himself at lunch,
a young boy who is new to the school and not making friends, the girl who
seems okay but whose dad is seriously ill. Or there are the friends,
colleagues, and classmates left behind after tragic events such as suicide,
drug overdose, car accidents, or sudden death
We ourselves are often hesitant to reach out and compassionately connect
and comfort those who are hurting. We think “I don’t know what to say,” “I
think they are over it,” or “I don’t want to make it worse.” So what
happens? Those hurting are left to feel more and more isolated and alone.
We also now know that the busier our lives get and the more communication
changes from face to face to screen to screen, the more loneliness and
isolation increase. We need to combat these trends with meaningful and
A new program is being rolled out to do just that. Five+ years of observing
comfort/therapy dogs in crisis response settings in our schools and
communities has shown that these dogs know exactly what to do when most
humans don’t. They are able to connect, comfort, and love those in the
most desperate of situations without hesitation.
These lessons have been central to the creation of a skill based curriculum
that teaches humans how to comfort by introducing steps to create
Compassionate Connections to those hurting. These are intentional and
required actions that create a relational engagement that is free from
screens, texts, Instagram or Snapchat.
Study Ranks Social Media Sites on Mental Health Impact
Researchers from the Royal Society for Public Health, in conjunction with
the Young Health Movement, recently published a report entitled
#StatusOfMind, which looks at the positive and negative effects of social
media on young people’s health and well-being.
The study found that Instagram is the most detrimental social media
platform to young people’s mental health. Snapchat ranked the second worst
for mental health of the sites reviewed in the report followed by Facebook.
On the plus side, YouTube topped the list as the most positive with Twitter
coming in after it.
“Social media has been described as more addictive **than cigarettes and
alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no
longer possibleto ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health
issues,” – Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public
The researchers surveyed almost 1,500 teens and young people aged 14 to 24
from across the U.K. to score how each of the social media platforms they
use impacts 14 specific factors related to their health and well-being
These included emotional support, depression, body image, loneliness,
sleep, self-expression, self-identity, community building, and bullying,
“Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and
alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is
no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental
health issues,” Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the Royal Society
for Public Health, said in a statement. Cramer notes that both Instagram
and Snapchat “are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving
feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”
“Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good
enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to
look ‘perfect’, one participant from Northern Ireland wrote.
Social media is far more prevalent in younger generations and many young
people have never known a world without instant access to the internet and
social media platforms.
A number of studies in recent years have raised concerns about the
potential health effects of frequent social media use on young people –
particularly when it comes to mental health.
While the researchers acknowledge there is still much to be learned about
social media’s impact on mental health, they say these are important
conversations that need to be further explored, especially surrounding
young people who are the most vulnerable to potential harms.
The report also discusses ways to reduce the risks and calls for action
from government and social media companies to help promote positive aspects
of social media.
These recommendations include:
– A pop-up ‘heavy usage warning’ on social media – 7 in 10 young people
surveyed supported the idea of getting an alert if they exceed a set level
of usage on a site.
– Spotting troubled users – 4 out of 5 supported social media platforms
identifying users who could be suffering from mental health problems by
their posts, and discretely signposting ways for them to get support.
– 4 out of 5 supported social media platforms identify users by their
posts who could be suffering from mental health problems and discretely
signpost ways for them to get support.
– Pointing out photo manipulations – more than two-thirds of the young
people surveyed believe social media platforms should highlight when photos
of people have been digitally manipulated.
“For young people, using social media and digital technologies as a tool
to help with mental health make sense for many reasons,” said Dr. Becky
Inkster, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. “Social
media is a part of their daily lives and so care could be delivered in a
lifestyle-integrated, self-managed approach.” She also says social media
offers a unique opportunity to communicate with young people in creative
“As health professionals we must make every attempt to understand modern
youth culture expressions, lexicons, and terms to better connect with their
thoughts and feelings,” Inkster said.
Source: CBS Interactive Inc.
Update on Mental Health Education in Schools: Advisory Council Workgroups
Begin to Deliberate
Five workgroups of the Mental Health Advisory Council have been tasked with
developing recommendations to guide the implementation of a new law that
requires schools to begin teaching about mental health as part of the
school health curricula. The following is a brief summary of each
workgroup’s area of focus:
Mental Health Instruction/Resources for the Classroom (PreK-12th) – This
group will focus on recommendations for additional functional knowledge for
mental health at elementary, intermediate and commencement levels.
Functional knowledge is usable, applicable and relevant. It is useful to
help students maintain their health or the health of someone around them.
It is used to practice health-related skills.
Multiple Dimensions of Mental Health – This group will provide guidance
on wellness, early prevention and awareness, developing resiliency,
positive behaviors and self-care, creating an overall state of well-being.
The group will consider mental health as being more than an
illness/disease, but on a continuum of wellness.
Mental Health Resources for Schools, Students, and Families – This group
will recommend evidence-based and best practice resources and programs that
are already available to support resource building of a sustainable
infrastructure that will bolster programming and the work of pupil
personnel services in schools.
Supporting a Positive School Climate and Culture – This group will make
recommendations on creating a school climate and culture that supports
mental health wellness for the whole school, whole child and whole
community (CDC). The group will focus on models of assessment, engagement,
support systems, (PBIS) etc., that can positively influence supporting a
coordinated positive school climate and culture, while supporting and being
sensitive to identified mental health needs of students and families.
Implementation – This group will focus on the policies, professional
development, and resources that will help support schools as they implement
the new requirement. They will consider how cross-‐collaboration can be
enhanced at both the State and local level to build support.
The five work groups are comprised of a wide diversity of education and
mental health professionals and representatives from a variety of interest
groups. Participants include health educators, social workers, school
psychologists and counselors, groups representing teachers,
superintendents, and school boards, and state agency representatives from
State Education (SED), the Office of Mental Health (OMH), the Department of
Health (DOH) and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services
The Advisory Council met on November 8, 2017 and will meet again in
February of 2018. The Council’s final recommendations, including suggested
resources for schools will be featured in the next issue of Healthy Young
Did you know?
Problem Gambling Among Teens
– More than any other age group, adolescents are at the greatest risk
for developing gambling problems.*
– Youth risk developing a gambling problem at a rate of about two to
three times that of adults.
– Approximately 750,000 teens have gambling concerns in the U.S. **
– 11 percent of the youth surveyed gambled twice per week or more, a
rate that has traditionally been used to describe “frequent” gambling. **
– Boys are more likely to gamble and develop problems than girls.
– Teens who gamble have higher rates of alcohol & binge drinking, drug
use, suicidal thoughts and attempts, school problems (e.g., lower grades,
truancy, behavior issues), depression, family problems, peer relationship
problems, legal and money troubles and dissociative (“escape”) behaviors.
**The New York Council on Problem Gambling. For more resources about
prevention and other actions schools can take please visit:
*Rates have likely increased since this 2007 survey with the growth on
on-line gambling opportunities.
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc. (MHANYS)
and its network of 26 local affiliates, serve New York State by
offering innovative and effective programming that address a wide range of
mental health challenges. MHAs fight stigma by increasing mental health
knowledge in their communities and advocate for change in the mental health
system ensuring access for all New Yorkers.
For more information and resources visit www.MHANYS.org