The Dichotomy of the Mental Health Programs in Schools
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
They are There, But Inaccessible
By Tamun Hanjra
Image via Tyra Parker of VofZ
TW/CW: Suicide, Mental Health
I graduated from the number one high school for science and technology in the nation and the most important thing that I learned is that the public school system is failing it’s kids when it comes to mental health resources. The main problem with the mental health resources in public school systems is the burden it places on the students to reach out for help, rather than having accessible and readily available help for the students. According to a U.S. Surgeon General, one in five students will face significant mental health conditions; these conditions could range from anything like ADHD, depression, and anxiety to eating disorders. The truth of the matter is that there is a significant demand for appropriate resources and help, especially in middle and high schools, but that need is not being met.
Despite this obvious need for mental health specialists, the majority of educational institutions do not offer proper resources. This can be seen by looking at the shift of the responsibilities for counselors in high schools. The role of a counselor should be to provide social, emotional, academic, and career oriented development aid. However, this has since shifted to an achievement-centered model. In addition, the number of students one counselor is responsible for rose significantly from 2013 to 2014. Before 2013, a single counselor was responsible for approximately 250 students a year. However, in the 2014-15 school year, researchers discovered that on average each counselor was responsible for 482 students each. The number of counselors has been decreasing as the demand for resources is increasing.
A large problem that persists within the educational community and beyond is the stigma that surrounds mental health. In general, mental health treatment is viewed as a luxury and unnecessary; in a lot of cases, children are told to “toughen up” and brave the hardships since it will help them become mentally tough. On average, only about 15% of women and 9% of men with mental health difficulties seek therapy. These numbers decrease for members of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities. Due to this evident lack of treatment outside of an educational institution, schools could be used as an important tool to bolster and increase the number of individuals with access to therapy.
There are a number of solutions that can be implemented in the majority of educational institutions that require little-to-no extra cost from the schools themselves. This includes a more accurate screening test. In my experience, a commonly used test is called the “BSAD: Brief Screen for Adolescent Depression.” This test involves a self-report and grading process in which students answer seven yes or no questions about their feelings in the past four weeks. The test is completely anonymous and provides the student with the option to ask for help if their score is above a three. The anonymity of this screening is it’s most redeeming quality, but could also be seen as a downfall. The main downfall, however, is the lack of follow through and available resources for students to access if they are identified as at risk.
The most obvious solution to help improve the accessibility of mental health resources in educational institutions, more specifically in high schools, is hiring multiple full time school psychologists who are introduced to the students the same way guidance counselors are. This is something that would require additional monetary investment, however it is a sacrifice schools should be willing to make to help their students’ mental health.
The suicide rate is alarmingly high and continually increasing amongst teenagers in America. Suicide has been named the second leading cause of death for children aged 15 to 24 according to a study. However, the high rates of suicide should not be the only motivators to drive educators to improve the environment and resources available to youth in schools; there is a dire need for improvement to increase the quality of life of children. School should not be a place in which children feel unsafe or inadequate. The purpose of a school is not to harden the mentality of a student, but to educate and help them grow. There needs to be proper access to mental health resources and the burden should not be placed on the student to reach out for help; help should be readily available to them.
There are resources available to you if you feel that you need them at any point. The National Suicide Prevention Helpline number is: 1-800-273-8255. If you do not feel comfortable calling the Helpline, there is also a text line available. Text HOME to 741741 if you live in the US or Canada. Visit https://www.crisistextline.org/ for other options and resources.
Written by writer Tamun Hanjra