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Upcoming workshop tries to put away anxiety

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Mental health, and more specifically, anxiety, will be the focus of an upcoming parent and teacher workshop at Swampscott High School.

The workshop, which is open to the public at no charge, will be Wednesday, Jan. 11 from 7-9 p.m. Registration is not required.

The featured speaker is Lynn Lyons, a psychotherapist who specializes in the treatment of anxious children and their parents, and the co-author with Reid Wilson of “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children.” She has been featured on television and public radio, including “Katie Couric” and “Morning Edition.”

“Anxiety is a very persistent master; when it moves into families, it takes over daily routines, schoolwork, bedtime and recreation,” reads a description of the event. “To make matters worse, the things that we do intuitively as adults to help and console our anxious children actually make the anxiety stronger.”

The event was paid for by a federal grant for an undisclosed amount obtained by the Swampscott Special Education Department. It will be hosted by the Swampscott Schools Mental Health Task Force and Glover School Parent Teacher Organization in Marblehead.  

The workshop will discuss concrete strategies parents and educators can use with children and teens to handle anxiety and prevent the development of anxiety and depression later in life.

Cathy Kalpin, school adjustment counselor at Clarke Elementary School and a member of the Mental Health Task Force, said there’s been an effort in the district to get some parent and teacher forums around the issue of an anxiety, because it was something raised during the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, taken by student in grades 6 to 11 last year.

Craig Harris, school psychologist at Swampscott High School, said the survey showed that 25 percent of students at the high school and 18 percent of students at the middle school report that they often or always have a lot of worries that are difficult to control.

Nineteen percent of all students reported they often or always get so nervous during tests that they have a hard time concentrating. The survey also showed that 46 percent of students reported symptoms consistent with a panic attack in the past year, while 22 percent said they experienced three or more in the past year, according to Harris.

Another relevant statistic, Harris said, is that 25 percent of people are estimated to meet the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder over their lifetime.

Kalpin said anxiety was also identified as an issue when staff was surveyed about problems they had in their classrooms, and it tends to increase in higher grades. She said Lyons will offer some practical approaches to addressing anxiety and some mistakes made in dealing with it.

“Everyone benefits because it’s either about helping them develop their own strategies or helping them to respond to their own moments of anxiety,” Kalpin said. “Oftentimes our instinctual reactions to kids with anxiety is to remove the stress … She can talk about how to push them through it.”

School officials have made mental health a priority. This year, two new programs were introduced at the high school aimed at providing a supportive environment for students suffering from mental or emotional health concerns. Swampscott Integrated for Transition (SWIFT) was designed to address the needs of students reentering school after absences because of serious mental problems or medical illness. The Harbor Program is a special education program for students with emotional disabilities.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

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