New York – When we think about child care, we think about development in the traditional sense of the word: Learning, reading, writing, making friends. But often times overall mental health throughout a child’s journey to teenager to adult is overlooked. However, more recently, mental health has become a major subject within our educational system. And rightfully so as the subject of mental health has become an adjacent talking point around various issues featured in the media today. Currently, organizations such as the CDC (Center of Disease Control and Prevention), NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), NYSCSH (New York State Center for School Health) and many more are promoting and publishing research and stats emphasizing the importance of mental health within the educational system.
Why it Matters –
As NPR states, the mental health crisis in our schools could be considered a “silent epidemic.” According to the CDC, research has shown that the majority of mental health issues occur as a child enters their teenage years, with one in five suffering from these challenges and less than half being treated for them. The NYSED (New York State Education Department), among other groups have since moved to address this issue: When you educate kids and teens about mental health, they will be better able to recognize symptoms among their peers and themselves. And with this recognition, they will know how to get help. With these policies being implemented across the country, school faculty have a rare chance to help students recognize, manage, and treat symptoms. To further assist faculty members in addressing issues concerning mental health, NAMI and others are promoting a bill on federal funding to train teachers and school officials, build links from the school to the local community, and coordinate services as needed.
Examples of a Few Efforts –
Globally, mental health is also an issue. For instance, in India, the Delhi government has developed “happiness classes” in an effort to alleviate mental health issues that many educators are seeing. Within India, the pressures of academic expectations has led to a high student suicide rate and one in four teenage children dealing with depression. In fact, after noticing that students who failed had a higher rate of suicide, an option of retaking their exams reduced the number of suicides.
In Washington D.C, Rebecca Lemos-Otero has started an initiative called “City Blossoms” to develop green spaces across the city. The effort is children-focused and aims to provide low-income and minority children access to a safe, peaceful place. This effort is an interesting one in that it is not implemented within the school system, but functions in an adjacent capacity to the school’s efforts, zeroing in on a similar demographic when they are out of school. Based on research, symptoms of depression lessen for those who live near green spaces, even more so for those who live in low-income neighborhoods.
North Dakota has tried to tackle the problem in other ways. After years of conversations around mental health needs in North Dakota, lawmakers commissioned a report to evaluate and quantify the situation. Based on the report they found that their mental health system was too focused on expensive services like residential or inpatient care but was severely lacking in prevention and early intervention. Their initiative is especially relevant to education system when we see efforts to tackle this obstacle by local school boards. This past month, the Bismarck School board unanimously approved $1.4 million to provide mental health support for its students. The budget will be used to hire 31 aides, two school social psychologists and a part-time social worker while mental-health pilot programs will be monitored across the district.
As we move forward, we will increasingly see more examples such as these that will hopefully help to alleviate challenges for these individuals when they reach adulthood. This bigger picture, longer term thinking will help to counter the increase in mental health challenges as we move forward.