School counselors say anxiety on the rise for Portland teens

FOX 12 spoke with two counselors at Beaumont Middle School who explain what they’re seeing on a daily basis with students.
Published: Oct. 17, 2023 at 6:26 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - FOX 12 and Providence Health Plan are shining a spotlight on the impact mental health issues can have on everyone and resources you can access to address those head-on.

As part of the Well-Being Revolution, FOX 12 spoke with two counselors at Beaumont Middle School in northeast Portland who explain what they’re seeing on a daily basis with students.

“Middle school in general is typically an anxious and stressful time. But since we’re in this post-pandemic area, that anxiety has increased a lot,” said Samara Bockelman.

SEE ALSO: The importance of having back-to-school discussions about mental health

Since 2017, Paula Inman-Balanzar and Samara Bockelman have been working as counselors at Beaumont Middle Schools. They say the pandemic is not the only contributing factor to the mental health crisis among teens.

The current crises impacting Portland like addiction, housing, and the lack of mental health resources also play a role.

“Families have reported to us that they’ve been on a waitlist for months and months,” Inman-Balanzar said. “They don’t have another outlet or another resource to go to.”

As the only two counselors at Beaumont Middle School, they talk to hundreds of students every year; getting to know the positives and the negatives.

“I think there’s more of an understanding kind of like how the pandemic exasperated the need for mental health support and what that means,” Bockelman said.

Dr. Paul Giger, Medical Director for Behavioral Health at Providence, says they’re seeing more middle school-aged teens looking for mental health resources.

“They’re kind of emerging into adolescence. So you’re going to have a cross between adolescence problems and grade school problems,” Dr. Giger said.

Dr. Giger says he sees an upward trend of depression and anxiety among middle schoolers. He also says the pandemic added to the rise, but for this age group there are more social pressures young teenagers have to navigate.

He says parents need to communicate with their teens, while understanding middle schoolers are at a critical crossroads in development.

“They’re probably at an age where they can hear a message like this, ‘I’m worried, you’re normally like this, the last month, you were like that. That’s concerning to me and your mother and me and my father.’ And offer the child an opportunity to give an explanation,” said Dr. Giger.

He says school counselors, like Bockelman and Inman-Balanzar, are a great resource. As mental health professionals, they can provide that support system for students as they navigate school and any external factors.

As people of color, they feel like they can connect with BIPOC students and their families to provide representation in this mental health crisis.

“There’s that unspoken understanding when you can talk to somebody who looks like you or has a similar background or has similar experience,” Bockelman said.

SEE ALSO: Portland construction company offering workers mental health support

“For me more than anything being a bilingual, bicultural school counselor here, being to navigate all of these challenges and nuances that they’re navigating with their families and getting to know their experiences, it means so much to me to talk with my family in Spanish and help and support them,” said Inman-Balanzar.

For more details about the Well-Being Revolution, click here.