Mental Health in Schools: It’s Time to Make a Difference

It’s no secret that access to mental health assistance is a key component to a healthy society, not to mention vital to the well-being of individuals who need it. That’s especially true when children are involved: Whether you’re a parent, a family member, or just a concerned family friend, you don’t want to see a young person you know and love suffer through problems that would be challenging even for an adult to face.

That’s why services focused on mental health in schools are so important. By the same token, school mental health program audits such as the ones undertaken by California’s state government show great initiative in keeping our youngest citizens safe, healthy, and happy.

It should come as no surprise that a progressive state like California is so forward-thinking when it comes to mental health in schools. But the point here isn’t to praise the Golden State or really even talk about the above-linked audit. Instead, it’s to discuss the importance of parents trusting their gut feelings and identifying the difference between behavioral issues and treatable problems, then knowing when to make use of resources when the line between the two is perhaps too blurry to be sure.

I attended elementary school in rural southern Indiana. While my upbringing and educational experience were largely positive, I frequently noted what’s best described as an old-school mentality regarding so-called behavioral problems that would very likely be classified as learning disabilities today. If students were seen as disruptive or lazy, they would be punished accordingly instead of given the treatment and attention they probably needed.

I was lucky to have guardians who recognized my own anxiety and depression from an early age and supported me, but this wasn’t the case for everyone. It was quite disheartening to see kids who appeared to suffer many of the same problems I did ushered off to the office for suspension or Saturday school when they should have been sent to counseling.

None of this is to suggest all behavioral problems are the result of a need for counseling. Kids will be kids, after all. What I am saying, however, is that people should be more cognizant of their children’s behavior and keep treatment options in mind. As a father of two wonderful children, you can bet I’ll be watching like a hawk if any “behavioral issues” become repeat offenses, if bad behavior becomes a months- or years-long pattern, and so on. In other words: I’ll trust my gut and seek out help when my wife and I feel it’s necessary.

In light of this thinking, California’s renewed vigilance with regard to mental health in schools is huge. Instead of parents spending money on an out-of-school visit that may or may not get results, the state has a list of resources, including info on which schools offer what mental health services.

Is the existing system perfect? No. The fact that this audit must happen suggests the opposite. But by simply adding mental health services to the list of programs offered to students and treating a trip to the counselor like to a trip to the nurse, it normalizes the problems many kids face these days. Even better, it gives parents who may be tentative about testing an outlet to address their concerns without the stress of making tough decisions on their own. As far as great starts go, that’s about as good as it gets.

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