High school launches ‘calm room’ to help students’ mental health

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South Salem High school created a "calm room" to help students cope with mental health challenges.  (Salem Keizer Public Schools)

A high school is taking an extra step to help students battling anxiety and depression, creating a safe space for them.

South Salem High School in Oregon created a "calm room" to help improve students’ mental health. The designated classroom opened in the fall of 2021. 

School officials said the idea came about after they noticed a growing trend of students suffering from headaches and stomach aches. They discovered the illnesses were symptoms of depression and anxiety. Rather than traditionally sending students home, the school gave the stressed students a 20-to-30-minute break, and they were able to return to class. 

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"Simultaneously, our student suicide prevention club, Saxon Strong conducted a schoolwide survey asking students to identify anything that would help improve their mental health," Ryan Marshall, lead school counselor, told FOX Television Stations. "The overwhelming number one response from students was to add a student calm room."

"We got creative, though, and used whatever space we could find as we weathered the pandemic and bond construction work," he continued. 

Marshall said the purpose of the room is "to offer students a school-based home for hope, wellness, and renewal." The room contains couches, bean bag chairs, rocking chairs and workspaces. Puzzles, games, cards and other activities are also provided. The room is supervised by a counseling support specialist.

School officials said the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on schools exacerbated the students’ mental well-being. 

"One of the most powerful strategies for navigating a rapidly changing and sometimes volatile world is to learn distress tolerance skills that help us get through difficult emotional situations one moment at a time," Chris Moore, behavioral health coordinator, said to FOX Television Stations. 

Pandemic’s toll on teens and young adults

The stresses of the coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll on Americans of all ages, but a recent poll found that teens and young adults have faced some of the heaviest struggles as they come of age during a time of extreme turmoil.

Overall, more than a third of Americans ages 13 to 56 cite the pandemic as a major source of stress, and many say it has made certain parts of their lives harder. But when it comes to education, friendships and dating, the disruption has had a pronounced impact among Generation Z, according to a new survey from MTV Entertainment Group and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

RELATED: Analysis: COVID-19 pandemic impact on mental health of teens

Among Americans in Gen Z — the survey included ages 13 to 24 — 46% said the pandemic has made it harder to pursue their education or career goals, compared with 36% of Millennials and 31% in Generation X. There was a similar gap when it came to dating and romantic relationships, with 40% of Gen Z saying it became harder.

Forty-five percent of Gen Z also reported greater difficulty maintaining good relationships with friends, compared with 39% of Gen X Americans. While many Millennials also said friendships were harder, Gen Z was less likely than Millennials to say the pandemic actually made that easier, 18% vs. 24%.

The findings are consistent with what health and education experts are seeing. After months of remote schooling and limited social interaction, teens and young adults are reporting higher rates of depression and anxiety. Many are also coping with academic setbacks suffered during online schooling.

South Salem school leaders say they hope to bring the idea of a calm room to other nearby schools. 

"Your current reality isn’t your forever reality," Marshall said. "here are so many adults who are willing to help shift the trajectory of life in a positive way - find someone who you trust and don’t ever hesitate to reach out with anything you need. We’re all in this together!"

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.