- Nick M. Teich, PhD, LCSW
Hot off the press: ACA Crisis Hotline fields scores of camp mental health calls in 2022
In this latest ACA blog post, the American Camp Association names "mental health issues in campers and staff" as "top trends."
Says the ACA in this Crisis Hotline blog post, "Mental health issues make up the largest percentage of calls in this area. It’s critical that camps prepare for mental health concerns for campers and staff. A health/medical support system should be in place to address these needs as they arise."
Avoiding all mental health issues from arising at camp is not possible. However, you can help relieve a lot of these issues.
Preparation is the first step. Your camp must have a plan and outline for preparing campers and parents for what might come up for them during their summer. For campers, asking questions on the camp application about how they react to certain circumstances, when they feel overwhelmed and what that looks like, and several other similar questions are going to begin to get at the heart of what each camper needs. It is important to note that each camp is different and thus its applications questions should be tailored. What type of specialty areas does your staff have? What can your camp realistically provide in terms of mental wellness for campers that need it? When is it appropriate, and beneficial to both camper and camp, to refer someone to a camp that can provide more complete support than yours can? Once you begin to think about these questions, you can be on the road to better serving your community.
Also included in the Crisis Hotline calls were "staff feelings of being overworked and underappreciated," which so many directors and leadership staff are hearing about at their camps. Gone are the days when a simple note of thanks, a piece of candy in a staff mailbox, or a short check-in are enough for staff to feel appreciated. Their jobs have gotten more difficult with the plethora of issues that campers bring to camp, and their own reserve has been tested and depleted with everything the world is throwing at them. So, what are ways that staff can feel heard and appreciated? How can camps strive to strike a balance between paying attention to this important point while also having time to devote to campers, program, and parents?
What can camps do to help?
Provide more breaks and off time than in the past
Create intentional time for individual staff to be heard by a leadership team member
Make sure to have transparency and frequent communication about "what is going on" at camp
Leadership staff should sometimes work alongside counselors and occasionally "tap them out" when they need it
Leadership staff should get to know frontline camp staff on a more personal basis, creating trust
Easy to say, right? Implementation of these is not easy, but can be key in making your camp's workplace more positive and increase staff retention.