An invisible problem: One student’s struggle with mental health


EUGENE — In many ways, Javon Robbins is a typical teen.

He loves Harry Potter and fidget spinners. He counts his steps on his Fit Bit. He brought his pet tree frog, Norm, to show-and-tell.

But Javon, 13, has been in more than six schools since he started kindergarten — and there have always been problems.

Diagnosed at a young age with an attention deficit disorder, the seventh grader from Eugene struggles to pay attention. He also suffered prenatal alcohol exposure, which can cause him to be extremely anxious, defiant and aggressive.

Read the original: One student’s story on mental health in school

His mom, Brianna Robbins, adopted him when he was 21 months old.

Javon’s conditions put him in near-constant fight-flight-or-freeze mode, she said. It doesn’t help that his typical-teen appearance makes it hard for people to understand his outbursts.

She described it as an “invisible brain disorder.”

One in five youth nationwide is affected by some type of mental disorder to such an extent they have difficulty functioning at some point in their lifetime.

And the pervasiveness of mental health issues and child suicide leads Oregon to rank as the worst state in the country for mental illness.

Children battling these issues can become so overwhelmed with the effects of their illnesses, personal trauma and surroundings they react in a way that halts their learning, as well as that of their peers.

More on mental health in schoolsOregon schools aren’t equipped to address, treat mental health disorders, but here is how they are trying to change that.

“As a parent, education is very important to me,” Robbins said. “But right now, I need him to be a successful human being.”

Schools often search for ways students can be “mainstreamed,” meaning they transition from special-needs classrooms to traditional classrooms.

“They want inclusion and less restrictive placement,” she said. But for students like Javon, those environments may be the most challenging.


Robbins has worked with some educators who seem to genuinely care about finding the best situation for Javon. But others, she said, didn’t get it at all and thought his behavior was voluntary.

So she told the district: “If we don’t get him to a point where he feels comfortable in school, we will lose him educationally.”

A day-treatment center turned out to be the best environment for Javon. There, he and only a few other students are supervised by multiple staff members and given consistent structure.

The Robbins family had to wait for about four months for a spot, working with a one-on-one instructor in the interim.

But the facility is only for middle school students. When Javon reaches high school age, the family will have to find yet another school.

Robbins, who works 20 to 25 hours a week as a personal support for families with similar issues, also cares for Javon’s birth sister, Olivia, 7.

The rest of their time is dedicated to Javon’s success. The three attend family counseling once a week and have weekly home visits and monthly meetings with school and medical professionals.

Managing their time, money and schedule is a difficult job for the single parent.

“You’re just surviving constantly,” she said.

When Robbins heard about Trillium Family Services‘ wrap-around programs, she thought, “Do I want to sign up for one more thing that may not work?”

But it turned out to be a lifesaver, giving Javon and Robbins the resources they needed.

One strategy the family now uses to monitor Javon’s behavior is a journal.

His teacher writes notes in it, then gives it to Javon to take home. Robbins writes notes back so the teacher knows about his life and behaviors outside of school.

The family also has sheets and posters on the walls of their Eugene home that give steps to de-escalate if Javon goes into crisis, how to use his words to explain what he is feeling and more.

But the day-to-day interactions Javon has with his teachers and peers is the most important factor in his success.

“As long as (he’s safe and healthy),” Robbins said, “that’s a win in my book.”

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

Read more:

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Oregon schools: Diversity and absenteeism up, salaries and discipline down

Salem-Keizer staff told to report student sexual activity, including own kids

More information

A list of mental health services available to people on the Oregon Health Plan can be viewed at

More information for residents in Marion and Polk counties can be found by contacting the Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network, located in Salem, at 503-361-2647.

Lane County crisis line: 541-687-4000

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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