Over the last week, I have been submerging myself in article after article related to gun violence within American schools as a whole, and specifically the horrors that occurred in Parkland, Florida. While a wide array of different responses have been mentioned, I am pleased to see the growing number of people who believe mental health to be at the root of the problem. That being said, I want to challenge people to think a degree deeper than that.
At the risk of taking this analogy too far, I would argue that if mental health is at the root, trauma and toxic stress is the soil that is supplying life to that root.
In my work of researching and educating others on the impact of trauma and toxic stress, we have found that there is a significant link between our life experiences and many health outcomes, including mental health outcomes. To learn more about this check out www.acestoohigh.com Through further studies that I have done with Bruce Perry and The Child Trauma Academy, we have learned that these experiences actually change the physical make-up and structure of our brains. (www.childtrauma.org)
In my next article in the series, It’s Time for Change, I will be discussing how we work with schools to create a therapeutic and healing environment, where through simple and practical strategies, we can actually bring healing and growth to those brain regions impacted by trauma and toxic stress. I believe there are true and tangible steps we can take toward prevention, but first, we must look at healing. While there is a need for us to heal as a country, and especially a need for those directly impacted by these events to heal, today I will be focusing on the healing of teachers across our country.
While the growing number of gun incidents at school is unbelievably high, I would venture to say that it could be remarkably higher. I believe that our country has countless young people who have the potential of committing these unthinkable attacks, and the reason they have not is because of the amazing teachers who are working with them. We have students who are literally marinating in lives of pain, hatred, and anger, where they feel unlovable, stupid, and worthless. And then, they enter their school, and someone treats them differently – inspiring, instructing and helping them with genuine care. This makes a deep impact and begins the process of actually changing students’ brains and lives for the better.dent, and these people who care are our teachers.
Through the love and support teachers give every day, students feel valued, they see a reason to try, a reason to love, and a path out of the destructive lives they are living.
With this in mind, we need to support our teachers more than ever in times like these. Through conversation and reading, I have heard numerous accounts of teachers who are scared and who leave for work each day wondering if this is the day something happens at their school. When these thoughts and feelings occur, their stress response system kicks in and they are naturally going to be slightly more concerned for their own safety and wellbeing, leaving less of themselves for the students. This is not an act of selfishness, this is a natural reaction to the world they are choosing to improve through teaching.
Right now, there is a social media movement called #armmewith where teachers are speaking out, telling us exactly what they need to feel supported. Some are large, and policy-based ideas which will take much effort to change, but some are straightforward and tangible ideas that we can affect today. Some teachers simply ask for kindness, encouragement, and support. Please ask the teachers in your life how you can support them, how you can love them. Because I assure you, they have stopped countless tragedies from occurring, and they play a significant role in the steps we will take moving forward.
To any teacher, counselor, administrator, or other school personnel who might be reading this, thank you! We support you, and we will do everything in our power to help you through this difficult time.
Josh MacNeill, Director of NeuroLogic Initiative