Tom Mitoraj: Barrington 220 Board of Education Mental Health Survey
NAMIBA: Mental health is a simmering crisis for many of our schoolchildren, partly hidden by isolation but increasingly evident in the distress of parents, the worries of counselors and early research.
As a member of the school board how would you address this crisis?
Tom Mitoraj: I am grateful that so many members of our community recognized the importance of mental health and social emotional learning well before the pandemic. We are fortunate to have a variety of excellent resources for students, parents, teachers, administration staff, and others in our District 220 community. I have lived in a number of communities blessed with successful residents and high expectations ranging from the North Shore of Chicago to California, Virginia, and some overseas locations. I have seen that it is quite common for the kids in these high-standard communities to carry a mental burden because they feel compelled to live up to real or perceived expectations. I talk a bit about this in my book, “Raising Capable Kids with Basic Decency, Common Sense, and Passion.” Adding in stressors such as bullying, body image concerns, isolation due to lack of friends or lack of inclusivity, troubles at home, orientation confusion, drugs, alcohol, and others, it seems like our kids have to walk through a minefield every day.
And now if these traditional childhood traumas aren’t enough, we have to deal with the effects of COVID-19 and the steps our government has taken in the interest of protecting our students, teachers, and others in the community. The restrictions during the pandemic have impacted people in different ways. Students, Teachers, Support Staff, and Parents have all been affected. Struggles with new learning methods, loss of income in some families, fear of sickness, actual sickness, too much time together in the confines of a home, lack of social interaction, polarization within the community, and other challenges are very real.
As a Board of Education member, I think I would need to maintain a positive outlook, while not diminishing the very real emotions and collateral damage induced by the pandemic. We need to focus on the positive while offering assistance to those in need. I remember when there was a widespread stigma associated with getting help for mental health issues. The stigma lingers for some. I think treatment of the mind should be as commonplace as treatment of the body. I will do everything I can to further destigmatize mental health issues while encouraging individuals to take advantage of our local resources and seek medical assistance. I would collaborate with the experts in our community by listening to their descriptions of the specific mental health challenges our community members are facing as well as the recommendations they have for dealing with them. BStrong Together, Healthier Barrington Coalition, Broncos Committed, Erika’s Lighthouse, Parent University, the school support staff, Samaritan Counseling Center, and Advocate Health Care, are just some of the local resources we have available. The BOE will need to review our resources within the District to see if they are sufficient and judiciously add new resources as needed. Another area I think is vital to mental health is physical activity and time in the outdoors. We need to continue encouraging both and see how we may be able to incorporate more activity into our curriculum and outside of school.
Learn more by visiting Tom Mitoraj’s website, or following on Facebook. More information about the election can be found on District 220’s website. For more mental health resources, subscribe to NAMI Barrington Area’s newsletter.