In an article featured in a blog post from a few weeks ago, Corey Hirsch says, “If I had a magic wand, my biggest wish would be that, a year from now, there would be mental health awareness classes in schools […] across North America. Every single kid should be equipped with a basic knowledge about anxiety, depression, OCD and other mental health issues. To treat these things like they don’t exist is unacceptable.”
The US public education system doesn’t currently address student mental health in a comprehensive way. Texas and 19 other states don’t require school counselors and only about a dozen states require annual courses on suicide prevention training. According to the 2015-16 School Survey on Crime and Safety, 71% of public schools reported having diagnostic assessments for mental health disorders available for students while 64% reported having treatment available. When asked about what is preventing the schools from providing mental health services to students, 75% of respondents cited inadequate funding as the main problem.
However, there are some states who are starting to incorporate mental health programs into their school districts. Recently, New York passed a law requiring mental health instruction from kindergarten to 12th grade. Virginia also passed a law requiring mental health instruction for 9th through 12th graders. In Stamford, Connecticut, the school district re-evaluated their mental health program after three students took their own lives within a year. After some research, they introduced four evidence-based services for students, district-wide trauma and behavioral health training and supports for staff and integrated community and state resources and services for students. The goal was to create a self-sustaining, in-house program that takes a proactive approach to mental health.
Research even suggests positive mental health interventions in schools are linked to behaviors related to academic achievement. A 2014 study by the Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools found that adolescents who had positive behavioral health interventions showed an increase in task-learning behavior, better time management, strengthened goal setting and problem-solving skills and decreased rates of absenteeism and suspensions.
While there is still a long way to go in terms of getting mental health programs in all school districts nationwide, organizations such as NAMI have resources to help support this goal. NAMI is a supporter of the Mental Health in Schools Act (H.R. 1211/S. 1588) which urges states to pass legislature requiring school faculty and staff training in early warning signs of mental illness, links community mental health services to schools and provides funding and support for training. Through the development of free programs such as NAMI Ending the Silence presentation and NAMI Parents and Teachers as Allies program, they are helping educate adolescents, parents and faculty on the warning signs, facts, statistics and ways to get help for themselves and their friends.
How did your high school and/or college approach mental health? Were there counselors available, or was it ever discussed in classes? Were there ever lessons taught about it? How do you think this has changed since you were in school?