October 11, 2017

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

I wish everyone all the best during Spirit Week leading up to Homecoming. I hope all of you — parents, students, faculty and staff — take time during this incredible week to think about how fortunate we are to be part of this great school. Gratitude is one of the strongest emotions we can all feel, and Homecoming gives us a chance to celebrate being Huskies together!!

At the same time, we can’t avoid living in the real world and the dangers that can confront our children. At Flint Hill, we take our responsibility to address issues that are critical to growing up in today’s world very seriously. One example of that commitment is next week’s program for Ninth Grade families, “Why is Teenage Mental Health So Important?” Led by our Counseling Department, this event will focus on the growing national concern over mental health. The purpose of this vital evening will help us stop as a school family to reflect — together — on the topics the event may raise for our students and our school.

The “Community of Concern” approach is one that we have used at different grade levels to great success. It starts with dinner together as a full grade level before sitting in groups — without your spouse or child — to discuss a critical topic. The conversations are often honest, enlightening and impactful. And they are unencumbered by concerns of what family members may hear. We want to listen to what you honestly think and feel.

Even though we will only be meeting with Ninth Grade families for next week’s program, mental health is a topic that all of us need to take seriously. I became a school psychologist over 40 years ago, and mental health issues were a concern then. But what frightens me more now is the fact that depression rates among teenagers have skyrocketed. Suicide rates are growing every year. Instances of self-harm and the use of alcohol and drugs are still at high levels. And at a great school like Flint Hill, we can never assume those things cannot happen here.

It is a shame that there is such a stigma attached to mental health issues. When we talk about “health,” there is no problem. If one of your children complains of pain, a persistent cough or a fever, a race to the doctor is often the next step. But when people feel alone, unhappy or overwhelmed, or act in self-destructive ways, we are not sure what to do. Confronting social and emotional issues is hard. One approach might be to let a child figure it out alone or to tell him or her to “snap out of it.” Such responses force people to hide their emotions rather than work through them. No one wants to be perceived as weak. We are expected to be strong and able to handle our emotions, but mental illness is often hidden, and it is impossible to turn on and off.

As you can imagine, most students have no problem when they are checking out from school explaining that they are going to the dentist, orthodontist or dermatologist. But most hesitate to say that they are going to see the psychologist, the psychiatrist or a counselor. That information is meant to be kept quiet, personal and confidential. And yet in today’s world, with all the pressures that children experience, the day to day life of a teenager or pre-teen can be too much to handle. Sometimes, children (and adults) need help.

The Community of Concern event on mental health is a step forward in partnering with our families to make certain that we are all aware of the pressures that our students are experiencing. How can we help? What do we need to look for? What do we have to do? What do we need to learn from families who have experienced issues along these lines? While we hope we never have to confront these issues, how do we make sure we are prepared if we do? It is going to be an incredibly important night for all Grade Nine families. But it is also an important night for all of us because we are taking the concept of mental health out of the shadows and recognizing that it is one that all of us, as a school family, need to recognize as a part of growing up and a part of our human condition.

I look forward to seeing all of our Grade Nine families next Monday and reporting on the program to our entire school family in the future.

Again, take pride in being a Husky this week. Cheer on our teams, marvel at the bonfire on Friday night, and thank the Parents’ Association and their many volunteers for all that they are doing to make this weekend a very special one.

Best wishes to you!

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster