Mental toll school lockdowns can have on students, parents, staff

A Roanoke therapist weighs in on the several lockdowns across our region

ROANOKE, Va. – It’s starting to become a fearful reality for schools across the nation and here in Southwest Virginia – going into a school lockdown because of a potential threat.

Just within the last two days, two areas of schools were placed on lockdowns for hours on end. On Wednesday, E.C. Glass high school was under a lockdown for seven hours. On Thursday, schools in the Buena Vista area were placed on lockdown after a robbery in the area.

Not only can these events take an emotional toll on the schools but they also can take a toll on the people involved.

Geralyn Fortney, Director of Thriveworks Roanoke, said more students are using their services.

“I think many teens are coming to us here at Thriveworks where I work or other agencies that they come for counseling … who are afraid,” Fortney said.

When it comes to a school lockdown, it boils down to three groups of people: students, teachers or staff, and parents.

Students are often the ones that people think about during a lockdown. Whether it’s a drill or there is an actual threat, therapists say kids and adults go into fight or flight mode.

“For our kids who are in these schools in these situations…even though they think they might be safe, they’re not really sure … is it a drill? Is it real? Their body will react as if it’s real if it senses any kind of danger,” Fortney said.

Even after the coast is cleared and students are able to leave the building, some of them will continue to struggle mentally with the situation. It can be hard to return to school the next day or even the week.

“We can’t just tell students that you’ll be safe always, nothing bad will happen but to be realistic. Everyone is doing all they can with every fiber in their being to protect you,” Fortney said.

Parents are often told in these sorts of situations to remain away from school. Since the students are not allowed to leave, then parents have no way of getting them.

Depending on the situation, it can sometimes take more of a mental toll on parents than it does on the student.

“It can. It absolutely can. Especially if your child is younger and they don’t understand,” Fortney said.

Teachers become role models during these events. They are often the ones telling kids to remain quiet and keep their heads down.

“I think it’s important that teachers model being calm. Ensuring students that they are as safe as possible with them because students pick up on fear. People pick up on other people’s emotions really quickly,” Fortney said.

There’s no predicting when a school is going to go on lockdown. No matter how hard we try to mentally prepare ourselves for it, it can still be difficult when the time comes.

It takes cooperation between all students, parents, and teachers to get through the situation both physically and mentally.

About the Author

Connor Dietrich joined the 10 News team in June 2022. Originally from Castle Rock, Colorado, he's ready to step away from the Rockies and step into the Blue Ridge scenery.

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