The Need for Mental Health Support in Schools

Image from National Public Radio.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) makes a case for more mental health professionals–including nurses and social workers–in schools.

From the report:

School counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists are frequently the first to see children who are sick, stressed, traumatized, may act out, or may hurt themselves or others. This is especially true in low-income districts where other resources are scarce. Students are 21 times more likely to visit school-based health centers for treatment than anywhere else.

There are so many moving parts and pieces when it comes to a child’s mental health. Do they feel loved? Do they feel safe? Are they learning ethics and morals at home? Are they being taught how to treat people with compassion and respect?

For some children, the answer is no. When any one of these moving pieces get damaged or disappear, there can be long-term damage to a child’s mental well being. And for the most vulnerable children in schools, they may have untreated illnesses or insufficient food. They may not have a consistent place to live or get enough sleep at night.

By some reports, up to 72 percent of children in the United States will have experienced at least one major stressful event—such as witnessing violence, experiencing abuse, or experiencing the loss of a loved one—before the age of 18.

Any one of these factors can contribute to poor social behavior in schools, or worse, suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the suicide rate among children ages 10 to 17 increased by 70 percent between 2006 and 2016.

The American School Counselor Association recommends the following:

  • One school counselor and one social worker for every 250 students
  • One nurse for every 750 students
  • One psychologist for every 700 students

The benefits of a high counselor-to-student ratio are better attendance rates, fewer suspensions/disciplinary actions (including expulsion), better academic improvement and higher graduation rates. A 2018 study of student well-being and school climate made a case that schools that take counseling seriously have improved school safety as well.

If you don’t have mental health support in your children’s schools, ask why. If you mentor children–whether that be for work, in your community or in your home–pay attention. If something seems off, or if you suspect they may be in a volatile situation at home or at school, help them to get help. It is so important to protect kids and help them feel safe.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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