A Chat with our School Psychologist

Mr. Patrick Ballard is available to all students at Dunbar, but many students are unaware of the services he can provide.

Dunbar%27s+school+psychologist%2C+Mr.+Patrick+Ballard%2C+gives+insight+on+what+students+can+do+at+home+to+stay+mentally+and+emotionally+healthy+during+quarantine.

Wenbo Fan

Dunbar’s school psychologist, Mr. Patrick Ballard, gives insight on what students can do at home to stay mentally and emotionally healthy during quarantine.

Dunbar’s school psychologist, Mr. Patrick Ballard, is available for students to talk to if they want to discuss any mental health situations they are dealing with. Mr. Ballard was named Kentucky’s School Psychologist of the Year in 2018.

Q: How do you see students?

I can see anybody in the school, on a kind of, I don’t want to say an emergency basis, but I can see everyone once. After that, I need parental consent which is because I don’t have the same permissions as a counselor does. A counselor can see anyone at any time, but I’m a little bit special. There are certain kids I can see, and that I do see often, but if it’s something that needs to be ongoing, then I have to talk to a parent.

Q: What are you required to disclose if a student talks to you?

Anything that is an emergency, so if someone is talking about hurting themselves, hurting someone else, that sort of thing, I’m going to have to talk to someone. It’s the same as if you’re talking to a friend. If you had a friend who said something that really concerned you, it’s in their best interest for you to talk to them and to make sure people are safe. Safety is actually a huge part of my job; a lot of people don’t think of it like that, but I want to make sure everyone in the situation is safe.

Somebody telling me something, something’s happening to them, I want to make sure people are in an environment where their needs are met and they feel like they’re being heard and safe.

Mr. Ballard’s Advice for Remote Learning

Q: I’m not talking to a lot of the people I used to see in person. What can I do about that?

I think it’s just trying to stay connected. It’s really easy to be like “out-of-mind, out-of-sight” type of thing. You gotta work at it. It’s been the same thing for me. There are co-workers I used to talk to every day, and now it’ll be weeks before I talk to them. I think it’s just making a conscious effort, sending a text, sending an email…if people your age do that. Even picking up the phone and actually calling somebody as crazy as it sounds.

I have one daughter who’s fairly social, she’s 15, and she’s starting her freshman year this year. Great, right? I know she FaceTimes a lot with friends and they’ll get little groups together and do a big FaceTime call and talk. I know even my son, he’ll be playing something on Xbox, but he’ll be talking to friends on the phone who may or may not be playing with him, you know? So, sometimes you have to schedule it–you have to do something like that.

Maybe this is a good time to create a little social group through FaceBook or through Snapchat or through something where it is like several people–a group of people that you can get together with. And if not everyone is available, that’s fine, but maybe there’s someone you can converse with if they have a minute. Just finding a way to be kind of purposeful with that, and just making a date, as weird or as cheesy as it sounds. Just kind of trying to make time.

I know for me, I’m an old man, but I was still fairly social at one time and I miss that. Because there were groups of people where we’d go out on weekends and we would go have dinner and talk and hang out and that sort of thing and now it’s just not the way it is anymore, so you know, you gotta find time to talk to the people that are meaningful to you and to maintain those connections. And it takes a lot more work right now, unfortunately, for all of us. I don’t even live in Lexington, I live in Winchester, so you know, I’m that much more removed. If I were closer, I could pop into the office because there are people in the building, there are people that are working, but it’s tough for me to do that right now.

Q: It’s hard to speak up about my opinions sometimes because I’m worried people will disagree, especially when I don’t see my classmates. What can I do to fix this fear?

It’s hard when you’re in a situation and you can’t get that immediate visual feedback, you know? A lot of you guys are probably in classes where you know a lot of people but they’re all new classes, there are whole new groups of people, there may be people you’ve never actually seen over Zoom because if they don’t turn on their cameras, you don’t necessarily know who’s there.

In a typical class, you could get an idea of “I know what this person’s going to be like, and I know what this person is going to be like, but then there’s this big unknown right now.” It’s like, “Am I going to get flamed from this one person that I don’t know? Because I’m kind of stepping out and expressing my opinion?”

But I think you just gotta try, as dopey as that sounds. Maybe just test the waters with something not super controversial. “Puppies are nice!” You know, something easy, and just see how it goes from there. I’m not saying people have big extreme weird views or opinions of things, but you never know how people are going to react, so I’d kind of test the waters with something smaller, something that you think will be fun, and then kind of go from there.

Just take your time with it and see. At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t like your opinion, it’s your opinion. It’s totally okay to think the way you think.

Q: What are some ways to manage school while everything’s online, like staying focused and staying on top of your workload?

I’m dealing with this right now myself. I actually went back to school this semester, which was crazy. I shouldn’t have gone back to school in the middle of all this. Everything for me is online, and, like, I’m old. I’ve never had to take online classes before now.

I think a lot of it is scheduling stuff, I think a lot of it is making sure that you’re scheduling to get stuff done. You know, you’ve got certain times where you have to be in front of a camera for the class or whatever it is you’re doing, but then sometimes I’m like, “Turn off the camera, I’m done,” even though I have so much stuff to do. And if you’re not used to using a calendar on your phone or on your computer, there is no better time to start than now. Like, “for these two hours, this is what I’m working on,” and just making sure you’re setting time aside to get that done.

Otherwise, for me, it’s like, “Oh, I have all this stuff to do and I don’t know when to get it done,” and it gets really overwhelming and it’s not good for my anxiety if I don’t have a plan. I think for me, the plan is to make sure I’m scheduling to get this stuff done that I need to get done. That way, I have time to do other things I want to do. I’ve got time to spend with my family, and I’ve got time to do fun things like watch the Mandalorian. So it’s not just this big weight of “I have to get this stuff done, but I’m not sure when to get it done.”

Right now, I’m juggling work with school with a bunch of other stuff, too, so it’s just making sure I’m giving myself enough time to get that done and not waiting until the last minute.

Q: Yeah, procrastination.

Oh yeah, I majored in that for college. I think it’s a lot of scheduling and giving yourself time. For me, I have two classes, and the assignments are typically due on Sunday, so I don’t want to wait till Sunday to start that stuff. I want to make sure I’m giving myself enough time to get that done, so if I have trouble with something, I’ve got a little extra time built in where I can buckle down and get stuff done.

Mr. Ballard’s Advice for Mental Health Issues

Q: What should I do if I have a friend who I think needs help, but they insist they’re fine?

It kinda goes back to what I said before–if it concerns you enough to where you’re worried about them hurting themselves or someone else, maybe not necessarily hurting themselves but even doing something stupid, or making a bad choice where there’s going to be bad repercussions, I think it’d be a good idea to talk to someone. I think that really shows that you care.

If you’re really friends, you’d care enough to go above and beyond, and that’s hard. That’s really hard. Especially when it’s someone who’s told you, “No, no, I don’t want the help.” I try to think of it like, if the roles were reversed, I would appreciate it if somebody, even if I told them not to, somebody [took] that step to make sure their needs are taken care of.  But I’m not going to run and say anything to anybody unless I have to. And there are those are situations where you just have to.

Q: What should I do if my parents don’t let me go talk to a therapist?

There are people who aren’t trusting of therapy. I see that a lot, and I acknowledge that a lot. If someone comes to me and they say, “Oh, my parents don’t really want me talking to you,” I kinda put the brakes on things because I don’t want them to get in trouble, and I don’t want to make the situation worse.

When that happens, though, I do call parents, and say, “Hey, your child came to talk to me, and they’re going through some stuff. I can tell they’re struggling with some things. If you want me to keep talking to them, that’s fine. If you want to go and seek out something else, that’s fine.” I also let parents know that sometimes they need someone impartial to talk to, and it’s not because they don’t trust you or don’t love you, but sometimes it helps to have someone who isn’t directly involved in the situation to give insights and tips.

Maybe after working with them, it’ll be easier for them to talk to their parents about it.  Students can start with their counselor and that can lead to something more if they feel like it needs to be something more. It’s always okay to talk to an adult and say, “This is what I’m going through, and I think I really need to talk to someone.”

Q: What is the difference between self-improvement and changing to please others?

You want to do things that ultimately you can get a benefit from. The flip side of that is that there are some things that we have to do, that we may not enjoy, for our own good. Sometimes it’s hard to categorize which falls into which column. Things that people do health-wise, weight-wise, it’s a balance there. And you shouldn’t be doing it to make other people happy or stay in a relationship. That’s not healthy. Ultimately, it’s how you feel about yourself and doing things for you.

I may know that I can breeze through high school and make okay grades and be fine, but I may have parents that hold me to high standards, wanting A’s, maybe a few B’s. Even though both of those things mean gliding by with C’s and D’s will still get me a diploma, me doing better…what’s that going to lead to? Hopefully, a little bit better college, being able to pick where you go, even if you go directly into work or trade school, you can show people that you’re putting in the effort. If you’re putting D effort into something, people can tell that you’re not trying.

Contact Information

If you need to contact Mr. Ballard, you can email him at [email protected]. You can also make an appointment with your counselor at https://www.seemycounselor.com/.