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Teaching Mental Health from K to 12

Susan Weinstein, Editor in Chief
Care for Your Mind

This year, two state legislatures passed statewide mandates for providing mental health education in public schools. What should kids be learning about mental health, and when, and from whom?

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It’s Back-to-School Time. Are Mental Health Services Available for Your Kids?

Teacher

On May 23, 2018, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation (S.2934) to hire more mental health professionals in schools across the country. The move was prompted not only by school shootings but a 2016 report from the Florida Association of School Psychologists that found Florida has only one school psychologist for every 1,983 students. Compared to the nationally recommended ratio of between 500 and 700 students per psychologist, the data shows Florida has only one-fourth the number of school psychologists it needs to properly care for its students. That lack of available mental health professionals in Florida’s schools is one of the reasons why only a small percentage of children in Florida who need mental health services receive them.

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Mental Health in Schools Act: Giving Kids a Fair Shot

Franken-071009-18449 0003It’s estimated that one in five U.S. youth experience mental illness. Yet less than half of kids with a diagnosable mental health disorder receive mental health treatment. (Some studies put this number as high as 80%.)

The consequences of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness in children are tragic. Over the past two decades, suicide rates have doubled among kids ages 10 to 14, and suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.

What’s more, half of the high school students with mental health issues end up dropping out. Children with mental illness are also at higher risk for developing substance abuse problems in adolescence.

We know that children do better in school when they are well fed and well rested. Good mental health is just as important to kids’ school success, and children who have access to mental health treatment do better academically and socially.

Yet we don’t do a very good job of meeting the mental health needs of school-age children. The Mental Health in Schools Act, introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate and Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) in the House, hopes to correct that. It would expand access to mental health services in schools and give kids experiencing mental illness a fair shot at success.

“Addressing the mental and emotional needs of our kids is just as important as keeping them safe from physical injury and illness,” Sen. Franken said, in prepared remarks. “Healthy kids grow into healthy adults, and if we’re able to catch and address mental health issues early, we can help kids become productive members of society.”

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