Recently, the news has been filled with news of the recent suicides of two Parkland survivors and a Lake Mary High School Student. With such intense incidents, it is clear that action to protect student mental health should a key part of public education.
Unfortunately, though resources are available, they are often pushed aside. Few students even know who their counselor is and even fewer have ever made a point to contact them. Outside of mandatory credit checks, students rarely interact with the people whose job is to look after their mental health.
This issue becomes even more alarming when the statistics are examined. According to NAMI.org, one in five teenagers have or will have a serious mental illness. These include mood, behavior and anxiety disorders. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages 10 and 24, so getting students the help they need is not a suggestion, but a necessity.
Thankfully, the school has taken action to address this. In addition to the six guidance counselors normally at the school, there are a variety of other experts and options for students. This year, the district added a mental health counselor to campus twice a week,making mental health resources more accessible than ever. In addition, a school social worker is available to help certain students. A New Horizons group also offers a supportive group environment, led by a qualified counselor, to students in need.
Though these groups are a great addition to the school, they have not been made widely available. Students require counselor referral to access any of the specialized resources, and talking to a guidance counselor is the only available first step for students. From that point, a guidance counselor could refer the student to whomever they see fit. Just like them, each student’s issue is unique and hence requires an individualized plan that benefits the student best.
No student should be scared to visit their counselor— talking to students is literally their job. However, for many students this can be very intimidating. It is not easy to admit to someone that they need help, but in the long run, speaking up can prevent more serious issues
Overcoming intimidation is hard enough, but few students even get that far. The resources available to students are far from widely known, and the programs put in place to help them often go beneath their notice. The only way for students to become comfortable using these resources, talking to these experts and participating in these programs is to make them more public, more accessible, and more available.
Counselors are intended to be available to students at any time, but other obligations often get in the way. Guidance counselors have many roles at the school, including making and managing schedules and handling all testing. With a full agenda, finding a time for talking to students about personal matters can be quite tricky. Seeing as many mental health issues can require timely action, delaying student needs in favor of paperwork is far from ideal.
Considering all of this, the school should consider hiring a designated mental health expert full time. This addition would make it easier for both students and counselors to find time in their schedule for dealing with mental health, and ideally could be accessed without a referral from a counselor, unlike existing programs. Though this would no doubt be expensive, no price can be put on the mental well-being of students.
Once put in place, this resources should be widely advertised, alongside the existing protocol for students to get help. Mental illness takes a huge toll on students; getting help should not.