Oregon Department of Education launches mental health website

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The Oregon Classroom WISE site lists many free resources for students, parents, teachers, and community organizations.

PORTLAND, Ore. — School may be closed, but students’ mental health needs are still top of mind for many educators and parents after such a difficult few years.

There is now a new resource to help identify ways to help troubled youth. The Oregon Department of Education this week launched a new website called Oregon Classroom WISE to help people better address mental health issues among children, teens, and school staff.

“In all these years that I’ve been a psychologist, I’ve never seen a moment when the whole world is facing a crisis simultaneously,” said Dr. B Grace Bullock.

The pandemic was not the only crisis. Over the past two years, the stresses of distance schooling, politics and inflation have affected almost everyone, including teenagers and children.

“We still hear from many families that there’s a stigma around mental health,” Bullock said.

This stigma, Bullock said, is one of the main reasons ODE decided to create a resource-packed website. She said they wanted to change the conversation about mental health.

“We’re really focusing on the strengths that people already bring to the table so that we don’t get into that ‘fix what’s broken’ mentality,” Bullock said. “The Oregon Classroom WISE platform is a great number of tools and resources to help support youth mental health and staff mental health in schools, and it directly addresses all the needs that have been expressed at over the past few years.”

The website has links to videos, articles and self-directed online courses for everyone from parents to teachers to community organizations.

“[It] covers many very important topics, such as how to support children and adolescents when they need emotional support or social support. What to do when students experience distress,” Bullock said.

She said stress is often caused by situations we don’t think we can control and stress is also one of the main precursors to things like anxiety, depression and substance use.

Over the past school year, teachers, parents and administrators in various districts said students had higher needs than ever, in part due to the stress of the pandemic. Often these needs were manifested in behaviors at school, some of which were violent.

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“Almost everyone I know is feeling the effects, the fatigue, the stress, the anxiety, the unknown and the exhaustion,” Bullock said.

But she said the silver lining, if there is one, is the growing recognition of the importance of mental health.

“It affects the way we learn. It affects our jobs, it affects our lives,” Bullock said.

She said the online platform will be updated with more information, but ODE will rely on feedback from Oregonians. Contact information is available on the Oregon Classroom WISE website.

Bullock said the ODE has $5.5 million in federal COVID relief funds dedicated to mental health. The website is one of the three things the money is used for.

The funding will also be used to develop higher education courses on mental health. These educational courses could not only give educators more information and ways to support students and each other, but could also spark increased interest in becoming a mental health professional.

Bullock said ODE is also working with four districts to address mental health workforce issues. She previously said COVID relief money has been used to hire 10 people as community care specialists, who will help connect students and families to community resources. The Community Care Specialist can help families find mental health, housing, placement and food resources. She said the districts were able to hire 10 additional people for similar positions.

She said the 20 or so people hired in four districts to help connect families and students to community resources are expected to begin at the start of the next school year.

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