The Mental Health Crisis Is Here – We Need to Help

A few weeks ago, I attended an IEP meeting for my son, Jamie. It was probably the best one yet. I heard about the incredible progress my kid has made this year. All the work that was put in — time with support specialists, weekly check-ins with his teachers — is allowing him to have a great year in fourth grade. I couldn’t be happier.

But there was also clear agreement from the entire team of support providers and teachers regarding the one subject in which Jamie still struggles — physical education. I wasn’t surprised.

Before I continue, let me be clear — Jamie has great PE teachers. They love what they do, and they are committed to connecting with their students and implementing thoughtful, standards- based lessons every day.

But for many kids, including Jamie, PE is a tough class in which to navigate and self-regulate. There is often a lot of noise and overall stimulation, multiple instructions to follow, and peer-to-peer relationships to navigate. All of this can cause unusual levels of stress and anxiety that are hard to manage.

I guess in some ways, I am grateful that Jamie is learning to manage and express his feelings of anxiety now, because at some point in life, most every child will experience feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. And I wonder — will they know how to cope?

No Time to Waste

I recently spoke to Bill Casey, chair of the Physical Education Department at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, IL, who told me, “I have never seen such high levels of anxiety and depression among our students. It’s like it just goes viral … and we are unprepared for how to help them.”

I have thought a lot about this conversation, and about my own son, and the fact that too many children today are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and depression at very young ages. We need to get through to them, to help them build skills in empathy, resiliency and stress management. We need them to know they are not alone — and there are tools, resources and people who can help.

Our kids are depending on us and we can’t fail them.

This is what makes the new health. moves. minds.™ program from SHAPE America so special. We know that support for young people experiencing stress, depression or anxiety often starts in the school — from a counselor, psychologist or maybe special ed teacher. The health. moves. minds. program will provide a way for teachers and school administrators to talk about these issues school-wide, further reducing the stigma surrounding mental health topics.

This comprehensive service-learning program, grounded in standards-based physical education, will also help us more intentionally foster empathy among peer groups and allow kids to learn and practice skills that work for them, because we know there is no one-size- fits-all approach when it comes to this stuff.

At its core, the health. moves. minds. program will teach kids that taking care of their mind and body, while also being kind, will help them live their best life.

Blazing a Trail

Bill Casey happens to be one of the teachers who is piloting the health. moves. minds. program this spring. His school was incredibly successful in running the Jump Rope For Heart program for years, and we were grateful when he volunteered to pilot our program at a high school level, despite the fact we are initially rolling it out in grades K-8.

What really hit home for me was when Bill told me about the incredible “culture of support” that came together when he proposed the pilot to his administrators. School social workers, guidance counselors and teachers rallied, and together said, “Yes — this is the program we need for our school.”

I am so excited about everything all our pilot schools are doing to implement health. moves. minds. We are blazing a momentous trail by doing what’s right — for our teachers, our schools and our students. I hope you will join us when we roll out the program nationally in fall 2019. Our kids are depending on us and we can’t fail them.

Stephanie Morris

Stephanie Morris is a passionate advocate for effective PE and skills-based health programs in schools. She is CEO of SHAPE America and is also a mom to three kids, an enthusiastic runner and weight lifter, and a consummate chef. Her preferred pronouns are she/her/hers. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @SHAPEAmericaCEO or reach her at