In the past few years, the number of middle and high school students dealing with mental health issues has increased. Teachers cannot successfully teach if mental health is not being addressed. Kids’ basic needs being met needs to be prioritized.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many mental health struggles for all age groups. Children suffering already from mental health conditions were exponentially “more vulnerable to the changes”. The number of children ages 3 to 17 in Georgia that reported anxiety or depression in 2020 was 10.4%, up from 8.5% in 2016. For many children, school closures meant a lack of access to resources they would only have access to through schools. Since 2021, the percentage of parents who stated that they think their children would benefit from mental health counseling rose from 68% to 75%. When the statistics are broken down by demographics, the biggest increase in mental health needs is seen among LGBTQ individuals or minorities. Almost half of students who identify as LGBTQ reported to have seriously considered suicide. The number of Black students who reported actually attempting suicide rose by more than 50% from 2009 to 2019. In another study conducted, researchers found that one in five kids has a mental illness that would benefit from treatment. One in eight teens suffers from depression. Georgia was ranked 38 in the nation for child and family well-being for the fourth consecutive year in 2022. Half of mental health disorders start by age 14. It would be beneficial to have a program in school that can help detect mental health disorders in children, formulate treatment plans, and promote general mental well-being for all students.
Mental health is an important issue that needs to be addressed. There are multiple education-related bills being proposed this session, but none on the topic of mental health. The Georgia General Assembly made substantial steps to address mental health in the 2022 legislative session. Now, it’s time to start implementing programs that will make sure these funds are used appropriately. Prevention should begin at a very early age. As mentioned above, mental health disorders start to develop at age 14. However, some can develop at a younger age depending on the circumstances. All schools should ensure that every child has access to the mental health care they need.
The American School Counselor Association recommends schools increase the presence of social workers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. Schools can work with local healthcare providers as well as local or state governments to facilitate this increase. Local or state governments can make additional federal resources available and help coordinate treatment. Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) created the Georgia Apex Program (Apex) in 2015. Apex is “a school-based mental health pilot, to increase the availability of mental health services in Georgia’s elementary and middle schools”. The program “recognizes school as a natural environment for identification and intervention” and does an excellent job of implementing through different levels, but of the 2,100 eligible schools, only 400 have implemented it. Apex is also beneficial because it has resources for all students, including those without mental health disorders, to understand and prioritize their own mental health. Expanding this program would make mental health treatment more accessible to vulnerable age groups and identify mental health issues earlier on, thus minimizing long-term struggles.
While our state and national culture have made huge strides in addressing mental health, we must direct more attention to the school system. Early education is an excellent place to identify and address mental health struggles; students often have more family support and resources as opposed to later in their education. Additionally, early childhood education about the importance of mental health can decrease risk factors later in life. We must increase mental health resources in schools.