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School threats and their impact on students' mental health

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Posted at 9:49 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 13:19:33-05

MICHIGAN — Bob Sheehan calls the last two and a half weeks difficult ones for adolescents in the state.

“When school shootings happen far away, it’s hard enough on kids, but when they realize, especially as they get old enough to realize, this was a Michigan site and the folks in Oakland County are in their backyard,” says Sheehan.

From the Oxford High School shooting that killed four teenagers and left seven people hurt, to the wave of copycat threats that followed, Sheehan, who runs the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, says it’s a lot to process.

READ MORE: 15-year-old suspect charged with murder, terrorism in Oxford High School shooting

And kids should work through those emotions.

“If you're feeling anxious or if you're feeling excited by it or worried, those are normal. And let's talk about it,” says Sheehan.

He says any radical, sudden change in a child's behavior that continues beyond a few weeks usually indicates something could be wrong.

He suggests parents or other adults actively listen, but understand a kid may not want to say much.

“Just talk to them and say, ‘You seem troubled’ or ‘You seem sad’ or ‘You seem quiet,' not in a blaming way but in a ‘How are you doing? Are you okay?’”

If professional help is needed, Sheehan points to each county's community mental health program, but says schools offer it too.

Locally, Muskegon Intermediate School District says numerous grants and partnerships allowed them to hire dozens of professionals the past few years, like Vickie Swanson.

"We see a lot of students asking good questions,” says Swanson, School Climate and Culture Coach at Muskegon ISD, “and they're asking, 'How do we know that we're safe? How do we know that our schools are doing everything to keep us safe?'"

She says since the start of the month, they've provided threat assessments and recommended resources, whatever they can do to help schools. She encourages families to seek out what they need.

“We want students to be healthy,” adds Swanson, “and we know that when they feel valued, they feel heard and feel like they belong; they're going to increase that mental wellness."

Additional resources:

Directory of Michigan’s 46 Community Mental Health Centers, serving all Michigan’s counties.

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Mental health crisis lines in FOX 17's viewing area

Additionally, the resources on the Michigan Stay Well website, while designed to support the mental health of Michiganders as they cope with the pandemic, are also very sound resources for dealing with reactions to the Oxford shootings.

A sound set of resources to help children, adolescents, adults, families, educators, and community members deal with the trauma of and recovery from the Oxford school shootings can be found here.

As for the copycat threats, dozens of kids around the state are now facing charges.

Prosecutors are urging parents to talk to their kids and drive home the fact that it's not a joke.

READ MORE: 'You're getting locked up': Michigan prosecutors warn students about making school threats

READ MORE: How to support families impacted by the Oxford High School shooting

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