By Sarah Grados and Chloe Asnes
In the hopes of diving into the prevalent issue of anxiety within our student body, we decided to interview LREI nurse Kate McGivney. We had some questions for her regarding the prevalence of anxiety among students and the role that the nurse’s office should play in providing aid and relief for students. We also wanted to hear her thoughts on the ways that anxiety measures up to other issues and how students can properly cope with anxiety through school. We hope you enjoy our discoveries.
Q: Anxiety should be viewed with the same severity as a fever or a contagious illness. Teachers often times do not understand the discomfort and feeling of having an anxiety attack therefore it is not looked at as something that is worth missing class. How can we go about changing this? What is your view as the nurse who often times has kids come in with anxiety?
A: I beg to differ a little bit. I find that the LREI community, that my colleagues, the ones that I speak with, are very sensitive to anxiety disorders and I think that in the cases that I’ve seen and been on an email thread of – I feel like teachers are very responsive and they do their best to try to mitigate feelings of anxiety. For example, letting a child reschedule an exam or take more time for an exam or maybe sit in an environment that is more conducive for them so they can concentrate.
Q: How can we go about changing the stigma? Because this is not meant to be a generalization of all teachers but just in our experiences and friends’ experiences, there are some teachers that aren’t as sensitive to the issue of anxiety. They take it seriously if you have a fever but not if you have an anxiety attack.
A: Right because it is more subjective and less quantitative like you can measure your temperature. It’s interesting that you’re talking about this because there’s actually an article on the NPR website (can be found here) that’s talking about mental health within the school age: specifically middle school age population. I do, exactly, understand where you’re coming from. This is something that is not easily measured and there is a stigma because a lot of people might take on the attitude of, “Buckle up!”, “Push through it!”, “Learn to cope!” — that attitude. I think that the more education that the staff has about anxiety disorders and other mental health issues that are becoming more common in adolescent age group, the more education they have, the more the stigma will lessen. Not completely of course because everybody comes to the table with their own misconceptions and experiences and that kind of flavors how they see everything no matter how much education is given.
Q: Many students believe that it is problematic that you have to set up an appointment with the guidance counselor in advance because you cannot predict when you are going to have an anxiety attack or another stress related mental issue. What do you think is the solution for this?
A: I think that you certainly don’t need to set up an appointment to come into the the nurse’s office at least because we are more of an acute care place versus Alexis. For obvious reasons, Alexis might be seeing a student at a certain time and it’s kind of inopportune to just go in there if you’re having a panic attack while another child’s very important need is being catered to at that time. If it’s an emergency, the student can always come here. We can turn off the lights, put on the AC, they can lay down, we will give them a quiet peaceful environment to just kind of reset themselves. I think that learning proper coping mechanisms or coping tools in situations like this can help adolescents and I’m not trained as a mental help professional like Alexis is but there are certainly some simple things that Joanne and I can do to help a student with different coping mechanisms, depending on what kind of student they are and what might work for them in a situation where they are having anxiety, stress or feeling overwhelmed. When it’s becoming a negative on your performance in school, that is something that needs to be addressed. Nobody’s going to say go get yourself some medication and go to a therapist every single week. But if it presents itself as being a kind of chronic issue, then some intervention and conversation has to take place. And I can see how a faculty member could be upset because they really care about a student’s performance.
Q: That’s a very understandable place for teachers to be coming from. However, do you think it would be more beneficial on the students’ behalves to have workshops or something with faculty on how to address these situations? Because you were saying that anxiety attacks from here or there are not so pressing in the eyes of teachers. Do you think there is a solution that is more effective and sensitive?
A: I think that your idea is very good. Maybe something at the beginning of school. I know that in Peggy’s wellness classes that she does talk about stress and anxiety. I think she would be a wonderful person along with Alexis and Joanne and I to share some tools and also let the student body know that they’re responsible for their mental health — not for fixing anything, because you’re not broken — but in recognizing when you are not feeling right and need to seek help. Ideally, students, and sometimes this is easier said than done, should be able to ask for help. We need to let the student body know: this is an observable problem. It is just as important as a fever, a cough or whatever and it needs to be addressed and taken care of. Students need to know that we do take this very seriously. We want to get them the appropriate help.
Q: What do you feel the students come into the nurse’s office for the most? How do you know if a student is just trying to cut class or is really seeking medical or emotional attention?
A: I always assume that the student is not seeking to cut class and I don’t even really care if I’m wrong. Everyone that walks through the door I always treat as this is a problem that they are having and I need to address it and try to fix it as best that I can. There are frequent fliers and there are people that we chat about in wellness because we are very concerned about certain behaviors. So when I see a student that I’ve seen maybe twice already this week and they’re telling me they’re upset and just need a time out, I take it very seriously but also try to encourage them to get back to class as soon as possible and talk about issues at home if something becomes chronic.
Q: So would you say it is partially our responsibility to be proactive about seeking help and letting teachers and faculty know about our anxiety or mental disorder?
A: One student might not ever need to go to the nurse’s office or chat with Alexis but maybe another child has an attention-seeking behavior and really needs that interaction but that in itself is a call for help. That is a red flag that something is going off and needs to be addressed here.
Q: What do you think of the background music that they always play in the hallway? What if someone has a migraine or needs to lie down?
A: If someone is in here with a migraine, I will go out and ask them to maybe turn it down in respect to my patient. But personally though, I don’t mind at all. It gets very lonely down here – it’s like a little dungeon and to hear a little party going on outside, it’s nice. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.