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Dean Dan Clay
Hello. Welcome to the University of Iowa College of Education's office hours. A spotlight on our faculty, alumni and students. I'm Dean Dan Clay.
And I'm your host Mei-Ling Shaw.
In this episode, we'll hear from Dr. Gerta Bardhoshi, associate professor of Counselor Education and director of research and training for the Iowa Center for School Mental Health. The center, a partnership between the Iowa Department of Education and the University of Iowa, was established in 2021 to expand support for mental health to pre K-12 educators and schools across Iowa with a mission of service to Iowans.
The center aims to connect educational partners, policymakers and mental health professionals with evidence-based practices and supports for improving outcomes.
Dr. Bardhoshi’s expertise in social-emotional behavioral health and training school counselors positions her as a leader and advocate for both students and the school community supporting them. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Dr. Bardhoshi.
Let's just start right away with “what is mental health?”
I think mental health is not just about surviving a crisis or making it through the other side sort of unscathed. I think really mental health is about what are internal resources you have available, what are external resources you have available, how can you access that? But more importantly, how do you make sense of your place in the world?
And, you know, we think of mental health, like in terms of this is something that needs to be done to address a problem. But I think mental health can be seen as well. This is something that gets us to be in the best place we can be to drive meaning out of this life and to thrive despite all the challenges that we might be facing.
I really like that framing of it as something that helps you live a better life rather than something that you have to attend to in a crisis situation. How does your concept of mental health inform your research?
So my area of research is social and emotional learning. So helping kids acquire the skills they need to not only handle their own emotions but also recognizing emotions and feelings of others and navigate conflict in a way that successful when it doesn't harm relationships. I think that is really a key to leading a successful, meaningful, productive life. Being able to recognize what are your strengths, what are areas you need to grow and then something that really work with kids is recognizing who can help you and how you can reach out for help.
And I think when we talk about mental health in the future, being able to do a self scan and recognize when you are struggling and then maybe having the coping skills to overcome that. But if you don't have the right tools and we don't always have the right tools available to us all the time, is who then? Can I ask for help?
How can I reach out to others? How can I do that in a way that is going to be helpful for me and removes the stigma and the negative emotions that sometimes associated with reaching out for help? So I think it's really teaching kids how to navigate life in a successful way, and we don't have to reach adulthood to learn those skills, right?
The earlier we learn the skills, the better it is.
I also work with teachers and teaching them not only what are the basics of social emotional skills, but how can teachers enhance social emotional learning in their classrooms through teaching their regular subjects, which could be English or it could be social studies. I think there used to be this perception that I'm a math teacher what does that SDL skills have to do with teaching math?
And we actually know that in the way that we teach kids about how to handle problems, how to approach problems, how to working groups, how to ask questions, how to build on learning. All of those are social, emotional skills.
So all of this research you've been doing makes a lot of sense. It also makes a lot of sense that you are in the new position you're at. Could you share a little bit about your new position in the Iowa Center for School Mental Health?
So my new position with the Iowa Center for School Mental Health is a director of research and training. And what that means is identifying what are best practices out there that are evidence-based and backed by research that we can use in schools to promote social, emotional and behavioral health. Our professional development is aimed at teachers in terms of these are resources for your own social and emotional and behavioral health.These are resources for how to help students with that and also a resources for how to thrive as an individual and professional in our society, especially given this trying times.
We understand that teachers are overwhelmed with tasks. They are experiencing stress at work. There's a lot of expectations on teachers, but they're not necessarily always recognized as the heroes of they are.
So I think all the stressors are compounding on teachers right now. Certainly in the larger scope of the pandemic as well. Teachers don't have the time to sit there and edify what is the best practice for every single thing. They're busy delivering curriculum helping kids, sometimes being the only adults in those kids lives. That is a source of hope for that child.
So I think, you know, we are in this amazing opportunity and we have the funding and we have the support to be able to do that. For teachers to say, you know, this works. And not only does it work, but this works for the population that your working with. And here are some modifications that you might need to make for some other students, because I think the most important thing that research can do is show us not just what works, but what works for home and under which circumstances.
And we are some pretty unique circumstances right now, and that's certainly at the forefront of our efforts.
So you're actually conducting the research to figure out how to help teachers, how to help teachers support students and what works best for all of these different populations of students as well. What about the training component?
The training component is what are best practices in training our workforce, our next generation of counselors and psychologists, couple and family therapists that are going out there in the field and are going to be helping youth and families live their best life.
Yeah. So the people that you're training now are going to be going out into the field. How do you see that next generation of counselors and therapists helping improve our school communities?
I really think school counselors have the skills and the training and the opportunity to be leaders in the schools to create systemic change and to promote a positive climate and to use their relational skills to make connections with other professionals, to be there for students, and to be a role model for how you use social, emotional and behavioral health to promote positive change.
It's not all on school counselors. It's the role of the entire community coming together. But I do think school counselors really can serve a special place in schools.
I think the important thing to keep in mind is that every single person has a role. Every professional working in the school has a role Students certainly have a role. Parents have a role. Communities have a role. We all have a stake, and we all have something to contribute because it's the holistic energy that we put together. That's what really impacts all claimants.
I like how you look at it holistically. Can you tie that in to some of the real-world outcomes of social emotional learning?
In terms of how it improves outcomes? We know that interventions, whether they are group interventions, whether you're pulling kids into a group to kind of learn skills and to kind of improve some of their current situations that they're dealing with or going to the classroom and teaching social emotional skills or working one on one with students. We know that increases student self-efficacy in dealing with difficulties, right?
So self-efficacy is a belief that I can overcome challenges that are thrown my way, which is very important. We know it increases kids motivations and increases kids social and emotional learning and it reduces disruptive behaviors. Eventually, we know those things translate into tangible increases in academic skills, but it usually takes a little bit more time for that growth curve to go that way.
So those are things that we know for sure work and in academic type of settings in terms of addressing mental health needs. And can have LIFE-OR-DEATH consequences really for students. We know that suicide is on the rise nationally and also in Iowa. Students access to drugs and alcohol is also on the rise. We know anxiety and depression are things that are increasing.
So the consequences of that can really be detrimental and can change people's trajectories for the worse. So being able to get at a point where it's not at a crisis level, but we're starting to see some of those symptoms is really critical to avert potentially catastrophic outcomes later on.
Right. To avert those catastrophic outcomes that are so detrimental to our communities as a whole. As I'm sure you know, but for anyone listening, I was pretty shocked to find out that suicide is now the second leading cause of death in Iowa for people aged 14 to 44. Would you be able to talk about that increase that we've seen in the last ten years of depression and anxiety, especially in kids?
Yeah. And, you know, there's many theories for why that might be happening. One of the things that we know is not necessarily the case. We used to think, well, maybe it's because we can identify it better and we're able to measure it better. And therefore we, we're seeing it because we can name it. Actually, we've seen an increase in suicidal ideation attempts.
So those are very concrete, specific things we have seen an increase on. And I do think it boils down to, you know, the resources that are available and the stressors that kids are dealing with. There are some pretty unique stressors that I think are very particular to this time. We know parents are stretched. We have financial concerns that we're dealing with as a society.
We have structural justice issues that we're dealing with as a society. So all of those things are reflected in how kids perceive the world and perceive themselves and perceive their ability to be successful and navigate that world. So I think it's all kind of interrelated.
It ties into that self-esteem and self-efficacy that you were talking about. If you don't believe you can overcome anything, you won't engage.
Right. Absolutely. So if you don't believe you can overcome things and you feel helpless and this helplessness, feeling helpless, we know, is a major risk factor for depression, for suicidal ideation. So it's the infusion of hope that really is at the core of what counseling does help, not only for yourself, but also for the future and your role as the person you make in the future.
Better for others as well. Kids are very perceptive. They have ideas about how they want the world to be, and they're very passionate about some of those things, being passionate. It's something that's very precious and it's very much a developmental kind of window of adolescence. So how do we harness that energy to be involved in your community, to be involved in school, to reach across different groups and make friendships?
Those are all things that are positively oriented versus extremes. In those internally internalizing them and doing harm to yourself or others, or externalizing them in ways that are kind of detrimental for your school or for yourself or for your family. So I think there is positive ways of channeling that energy, and I think counseling specifically and counseling intervention can be really useful in channeling some of that energy.
Right. Harnessing their energy for in a positive way so that it's not just about one person's internal well-being, but their external presence and all of the connections and impact they have in their own communities. Right?
Absolutely. And one core component of social emotional skills, of course, is self-awareness. But the other component is social awareness. Who are you in relation to others and how does that manifest and what is your responsibility to yourself and to others? And how can improve not only your own well-being, but also other people's well-being in kids get that they're socially oriented. They understand that. And sometimes they just need the right tools to be able to access that.
And to do it in a healthy way. Right. In this era of social media and anxiety, to learn how to not overweight people's other people's perceptions of you and not worry about whether or not you've got enough likes on.
Social media is a whole other, it's a whole other can of worms. Yeah. But one of the one of the things that I talk about with social emotional learning too, is how do you manage social media and what are you using as a comparison for what you think you should be when you're an adolescent? It's part of your development that you think everybody's looking at you and it's kind of true. Other adolescents are paying attention to other adolescents. So there is kind of this fishbowl experience that it is, you know, to a certain extent, accurate.
But the other thing that's happened with social media is that the looking doesn't stop. It doesn't stop when you were at school. Right. People are watching you and making judgments about your appearance or things you post online or opinions all the time. So it's amplifying this effect of feeling like you're being watched, like your every single step is being evaluated. Which can create a lot of anxiety in adolescents and especially young women. We know there's a whole marketing of what it means to be a teenager that, you know, they see through Facebook and Instagram and being able to identify what is reality based and what is not.
And there's so much room there to teach not only kids, but also parents and teachers about some of the things that kids are exposed to in social media and some of the effects of potential that can have the biggest hurdle is finding the resources and the time to implement some of those interventions. If you invest in mental health resources, you will reap the benefits.
We know that it works. We know the most meaningful, impactful thing that we can do as humans is making some of his life better. Right. I think that's why we are in the profession that we are. And we know that this idea that you can potentially make a positive change in other people is what is really at the core of being a human and finding meaning in your life.
Thank you for listening to the College of Education’s Office Hours. For more information on the Iowa Center for School Mental Health, please visit icsmh.education.uiowa.edu.
Today's podcast was produced and edited by Mei-Ling Shaw with editorial assistance from Sarah Nelson and Brian Vogelgesang. And thank you to Dr. Br Doshi for sharing her time.