Thursday, September 3, 2015

The mental health debate - less talk and more action

As someone who has lost a father to mental illness I can relate to the struggles that many of our students are going through as they enter our schools. It seems we only talk about mental health when there is a tragedy. Once the tragedy occurs we say, "yeah, why aren't we addressing this issue in North Dakota or in America?" We talk about it and then the discussion fizzles. It's like a vicious cycle. We realize there is an issue, but we're never really interested in fixing the problem.

Schools are not properly equipped to provide the services in this area. Most schools have only a counselor, (which they are often overwhelmed with testing and college and career readiness) and a principal (and we know how many different hats they already wear). Every school district regardless of size struggles to provide adequate mental health services.

I think there are a few areas that really hinder our efforts in providing adequate mental health services in schools.

  • These services require additional funding and many of our school districts are already struggling to provide a competitive teacher salary.  
  • There is a shortage of mental health providers across our state and nation. Many facilities have long waiting lists and we often wait weeks to get a student into a facility. This is difficult when the student needs immediate help from trained professionals. 
  • Lack of communication between agencies and schools. We operate as separate silos and it becomes very difficult to find the services needed. The school is often left in the dark on potential strategies for the student due to patient confidentiality and lack of communication. We need strategies and advice from trained professionals. 

There are many states with school-based mental health services that require partnerships within the local community. Rather than mandating six hours of mental health training for all staff we should be researching partnerships within the community to support our school's efforts. Mental health awareness is important for our teachers, but we need specialized individuals to provide strategies and consultation services.

As we welcome our students back from summer vacation we need to stop talking and start taking action.

An example of a bill regarding school-based mental health services from Oklahoma.

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