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Agwawam school safety director pitches team to combat pandemic depression

Date: 12/21/2020

AGAWAM – John Nettis, the safety director for Agawam Public Schools, wants to develop a team of parents and students to combat depression following the pandemic.

While presenting his safety report during the mid-December School Committee meeting, Nettis outlined myriad ways in which he  and a team of other administrators and councilors in the district have helped families throughout remote learning.

Much of their job has involved direct visits to homes, and offering a helping hand to students and parents who may be struggling during the pandemic.

“In the month of April alone, we’ve conducted 52 home visits,” said Nettis. “The reasons why these visits are very complex is because we really don’t know what we’re walking into nine times out of 10.”

Nettis said that, for various reasons, he has lost contact with many students and parents over the past several months. As a result of this, Nettis and his team have decided to conduct wellness checks with the majority of the people they visit.

Mental depression is something the city of Agawam plans to address as vaccines are beginning to be distributed across the country. One of these depressive conditions he mentions is dysthymia. According to, dysthymia is a persistent depressive disorder that causes low self-esteem, as well as a loss of interest in normal activities. The disorder can interfere with relationships, school, work, and other daily activities, according to the site.

To combat mental health issues in Agawam students and residents, Nettis is currently working with Marlene DeJesus, the director of social-emotional learning for Agawam Public Schools, to collect statistics and create certain protocol to help families avoid this disorder once the pandemic is over.

“When the pandemic is over with, my fear is we’re going to have a lot more than dysthymia,” said Nettis. “We’re going to have some significance of substance abuse issues. So we’re looking to go ahead and put things in place for that too.”

While they are still currently working on the logistics for this process, Nettis said that the program will be called, “The Day After.”

“The other things that are in our power are, to offer them some consideration with mental health issues that they’re going through as well,” said Nettis. “And that’s why it’s very important that at least the councilor is present when we do these home visits.”

During the discussion, Nettis also brought up the issue of truancy, and how some students have been absent more than they probably should. According to Nettis, many parents are just too busy working long shifts, while tending to multiple students at a time.

Nettis argued that offering this helping hand to students and parents is integral as the vaccine begins to be more widespread throughout the country.

“We need all the help we can get,” said Nettis. “We’re not going to slow down; we’re just going to keep on going forward.”

According to Nettis, the parents appear more stressed than the students during this pandemic. He said that out of the 52 home visits they did in April, around 45 of them involved families who struggled with other problems, like financial issues and domestic violence incidents.

“I see that pretty consistently with the families,” said Nettis. “Our hands are over our eyes if we think that we don’t have a lot of dual-diagnosed parents out there as well, with the mental illness as well as the substance abuse.”

For the foreseeable future, Nettis  will be working with councilors and administration to assist families with mental health issues and/or substance abuse.

“I believe the success of the kids are going to be through the success of the parents’ ability to wrangle their emotions, and put their best foot forward,” said Nettis.