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Student mental health impacted by more school lockdown drills, experts say

Safety and mental health experts say there’s a way to properly do drills physically and mentally.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As school shootings and threats become more frequent around the United States lockdown drills for students are a constant reality. 

The drills are supposed to prepare students to take shelter, stay quiet, and wait for law enforcement to respond. 

Critics of the practice say these drills are leaving a negative impact on students. A study by Everytown Research and Policy says these drills are associated with increases in depression, stress, and anxiety. 

Safety and mental health experts say there’s a way to properly do drills physically and mentally.

"Research and experience show that lockdowns work," Kenneth Trump, a school safety expert with National School Safety and Security Services said. "People with ill intentions, gunmen have a limited amount of time their adrenaline's pumping, they know that they have to do what they intended to do quickly." 

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Locally and nationally, schools have been targets of prank calls threatening violence. These incidents typically lead to a lockdown and heavy law enforcement response.

"There is a concern that we could get lockdown fatigue, people who are so used to going into that routine of a lockdown that they don't treat a real incident a real threat seriously," Trump said. 

There are times when threats are real and students need to know how to survive. Preparing your child for a lockdown starts before they happen. 

"We need to know who more vulnerable populations are that, when these things roll up, we are creating buffers to help prepare these students and have conversations with them," Tyler Keith, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Thriveworks said.

The work to help them continues after the drills as well.

"When we don't talk about it, we're not protecting them," Keith said. "In fact, we're robbing them of the chance to actually learn how to handle the feelings."

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Safety experts stress lockdown drills should be simple and to the point. 

"School shootings are a low-probability, high-impact incident," Trump said. "We don't want to go over the top and create more trauma and stress and anxiety for something that is more likely than not to occur. We want people to be prepared and aware but not scared." 

Lockdown drills have different impacts on students depending on their age. Mental health experts also say there are warning signs you should look for after a lockdown happens. 

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"We might see an increase in investment, in play and an increase in interest in death, or safety concerns," Keith said.

But there’s a right and wrong way to approach your child about how they’re feeling after a lockdown. It's important to adjust the tone and language about how parents talk about lockdowns appropriately. 

"We want to make sure that we're keeping ourselves in check before we go and help our child because we don't want to do is impose our own concern, grief trauma, onto our child," Keith said.

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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