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Fresh Ingredients Behind a Pan of LasagnaThe “no casserole” disease. That’s what Sylvia Echols, a member of the Is It Good for the Children Initiative, calls mental illness. When friends or family members suffer from a broken leg or serious pain, people are quick to offer support. It’s another story when the problem is anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders. Although it is estimated that 25% of the population has a diagnosable mental illness, these conditions are often managed in secrecy. Fear of embarrassment  and potential job loss is too great to risk disclosure.

Children’s symptoms of mental illness are often ignored. Mood swings, irritability, and extreme reactions to changes in the environment are labeled behavior problems. It is assumed that these can be controlled with the right incentives.

Trauma-sensitive schools see it differently.  Staff members are trained to recognize the effects of toxic stress on children’s development. Their hard work creates an environment that buffers the effects of adverse childhood experiences. For example, relaxation techniques, music, and movement activities occur throughout the day to ease the anxiety caused by prolonged hyper-arousal. Scripted language and role plays help children use language to engage peers. Emotionally available adults model optimism and a “can do” attitude. They collaborate with students to solve problems and enjoy life more. Maybe not a casserole, but a good recipe for managing stress and moving on.