Written by Carley Sorensen
It’s the holiday season, which means lots of shopping, decorating, cookie-making, and time with family. For many people blasting Christmas music while wrapping presents and making cookies is the most wonderful time of the year. However, the holiday season is also the time of year where many people have an increase in mental health symptoms, because of the cold and lack of vitamin D. The stress of the holidays while coping with a mental illness is especially difficult when you don’t have access to mental health resources.
One of the largest populations that are unable to receive access to mental health resources or care are adolescents. Adolescents are dependent on their families and adults in their life for care. They also spend a majority of their time in a government run program: school. Even though adolescents have people looking after them at home, in the community and even at school, on average 75-80% of students who need mental health care don’t receive it. This issue can easily be fixed with access to mental health resources in schools.
Adolescent, or high school student, mental health needs are at a high in our country, although not many schools have resources available to help these students. Access to mental health resources in high schools ranges by state, but even at the country’s best only 81% of students who need mental health care receive it. That is 19% of students who are not receiving care. The vision statement of the United States Department of Education states “ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. Supplement and complement the efforts of states, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the states, the private sector, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education. Promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through Federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information.”
The lack of mental health resources for students does not improve educational outcomes, nor does it ensure all students graduate prepared for college, career, a global competitiveness or life. The lack of mental health resources does not ensure equal access to resources. With no federal regulation or federal mental health program, the Department of Education is not supplementing or complementing local or state programs, and again this also doesn’t allow for equal access to resources.
As many as 44% of students with serious mental illness dropout of high school. Without a highschool diploma it is difficult to have a stable job that pays more than minimum wage, and people living with serious mental illness usually are unable to maintain a job. This leads to a higher homeless population, as well as a higher incarceration rate, because some people may turn to illegal activities to make money. However, when mental illnesses are noticed and treated as soon as possible, the person with the mental illness can learn to cope and live a fairly normal life.
The best way to not let students with mental illness fall through the cracks is to implement programs in schools, specifically high schools. Most chronic mental illness begin to prevail themselves between the ages of 14 and 18. The first step in implementing a program is to do a screening of all students. This could be done through a survey that all students are required to take in homeroom as well as a referral form for teachers to fill out about students they have concerns about. The self-survey makes sure that students who have higher functioning mental illnesses, that may not be prevalent to teachers don’t get missed in the system. The next step would be for schools to have resources such as pamphlets for community organizations that have mental health resources or about mental illnesses themselves. Finally, schools should put on-site therapists and counselors for students who have mental illnesses or mental health concerns.
By implementing programs in schools, no students’ mental illness will go unnoticed because many insurance plans don’t cover mental health treatment, and low-income families can’t afford to send their child to these resources for that reason. The implementation of these programs in schools also helps the Department of Education live up to their vision statement to close the achievement gap, improve educational outcomes, and ensure all students graduate prepared for college, career, or life.
High school students are the future of our country. Without providing needed mental health resources we are not setting them up for success. With mental health needs at the high rate they are, the need for programs implemented in schools is greater than ever. It’s time to step up and get programs implemented in high schools across the country.