[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 25th of this year, was our #8 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]
Mental illness is on the rise in schools. As mental-health advocates fight to remove the stigma associated with mental illness, more clinical diagnoses are made. Twenty-five years ago, anxiety and depression were two illnesses barely discussed and rarely diagnosed. Now, they are flooding public school classrooms.
A survey conducted in February by the Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of teenagers identified mental health as a major issue among their peers—a number higher than bullying, drug addiction, or gangs. So with numbers that high, it should be assumed that public school funding would be prioritizing student mental health, but that’s not the case. In fact, too often, it’s our support staff who bears the weight of the financial crises facing public education.
I’ve spent 16 years as a teacher and educational leader. In that time, I’ve seen teaching go from a profession tasked with guiding children and young adults through academic curriculum to one of social and emotional teaching and learning. Twenty years ago, students were concerned with time management and quadratic equations; today they are overwhelmed by social media and stories of school violence.
Last month, the ALCU published an article called “Why School Psychologists Are Worried About the Mental Health of America’s Students.” In it, Angela Mann talks about school psychologists’ exhaustion and burnout due to high caseloads and understaffed schools. Data analysis from the U.S. Department of Education found a majority of public schools to be understaffed and unable to address the mental-health issues of its students.
The underfunding of mental health in schools
The underfunding of mental health in public schools is of concern. According to Mann, on average, school psychologists across the country have caseloads over 1,500 students on average; nearly half of schools report not even employing a school psychologist. Sadly too, Mann continues, the documented benefits of having mental-health personnel on staff is indisputable. School climate improves, discipline rates decrease, attendance increases, and graduation rates get much better too.