Mental health in school-aged children

The United States of America is one of the top three countries with the highest number of individuals that have some sort of mental or emotional issue, according to The Guardian. This silent epidemic will continue to spread and plague today’s youth. Schools across the country are starting to realize that this is a major issue that needs to be dealt with. While schools may be able to provide surface-level counseling, only so many resources are available to give every single student the time and dedication it takes in order to properly treat, and possibly combat, a mental illness. Students who have these issues should take it upon themselves to identify the problem and do what they have to do, outside of school, to have a sound body and mind.
Mental health in school-aged children is a serious problem. According to Juliana Menasce Horowitz and Nikki Graf, with Pew Research Center, seven-in-ten teenagers in high school view depression, anxiety, and addiction as major issues among their peers. In today’s society, teenagers feel so much pressure to do well in school, have a social life, hold a steady part-time job, and also designate time for their family and possibly a significant other. These stresses create a constant feeling of uneasiness and worry. These feelings are not only mental, but they can appear as physical also. They may come to a point when they do not want to try to work through their thoughts on their own, they want someone to help them. But a question arises, who are they going to talk to?
These children may be able to turn to their schools. Whether it be a guidance counselor, associate principal, or a school psychologist. However, funding, availability, and qualifications for dealing with these issues hinders school official’s ability to properly help students with these issues. In fact, a guidance counselor’s main job is to aid students with academics and future job or college planning, not mental health. Author of the Houston Chronicles, Renee Lee, describes the problem as, “Budget cuts have forced many schools to eliminate nurses and counselors, who are trained to spot symptoms of mental illness”. Since many of these adults are not always readily available or properly educated to help every single student, these children need to take control of their mental health. It may be more dangerous to the student if they speak to an adult who has never had any personal experience with mental health or health care education. They need to assess their own wants, needs, and goals and do what they have to do in order to achieve their desired level of mental clarity or solace.
If these students can work on their mental health outside of school with a therapist or support group, then relay important updates to their trusted school official, the process of getting proper and adequate care will become much easier for the student and possibly make them feel more comfortable. As students progress out of high school, if they are going to college, they should take the time to figure out a plan for resources that may or may not be available to them. The Minnesota Post author, Andy Steiner, interviewed college senior, Sawyer Boyles, who attends the University of Minnesota, about how Boyles was dealing with some issues and how he took charge and got help for himself. Boyles, at the time, was feeling the way many college students feel, tired and stressed out. He researched what programs his school offered and asked his trusted friends for honest advice. Steiner writes, “A friend who works at the University's Boynton Health Service told Boyles about Learn to Live, an online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program that is offered free-of-charge to University of Minnesota students”. Boyles was wary about the program at first, as he had never sought help before, however, he fell in love with the program. This program is called Learn to Live. Learn to Live gave Boyles the opportunity to control when his sessions were, so he could plan around his busy schedule, and the sessions were all electronic, which gave him a sense of comfort. High school seniors who use their guidance counselors at school should view Boyles’ experience as a way to do the same after graduation. These students can see that they can still get time-worthy help without the surface level aid from their high school.
There are many different options to choose from in order to get help; depending on what the child, or young adult, is dealing with. A support group is just one way for individuals to be in a safe speaking space with people who are going through some of the same problems that they are dealing with. There are many different types of support groups to fit each person’s needs. Therapy groups are guided by a mental health professional, usually a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a social worker. These groups are more structured in the sense that the leader will set rules and may even give ‘homework’. As the article, Support Groups, states, “One important goal of a therapy group is to help participants understand and accept themselves as the valuable people they are”. Leaders will implement rules for the safety of every participant’s wellbeing. They may tell the children to not ask questions about another’s personal story, never talk about what was talked about in a group, for anonymity reasons, and finally, to be respectful. These rules are moderately strict. If a member of the group fails to commit to the rules, they may be asked to find another group. Another popular program is the Twelve-Step Program. A Twelve-Step group includes individuals who primarily suffer from some sort of addiction. These groups utilize a “higher power” to help each person guide themselves through the whole process. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Alateen are the three most attended groups. However, Alateen focuses more on helping the children who have alcoholic or drug addict parents and need help dealing with the emotions that associate with that, but everyone is welcome. These uses of therapy are geared more to an individual's own journey through serenity. While, yes, these groups are composed of a few people who work together, the actual program that is given is supposed to be done however the individual chooses. This gives the participants to pick and choose what methods that were taught will work for them, which makes it personal to them. Each person will utilize each group as they please, and at their own pace. These groups are a way for children, students, and young adults to find help on their own.
However, if schools can provide more counselors, or designated mental health counselors in schools, students will do better socially and academically. Sarah Matusek, who is an affiliate of the Christian Science Monitor, describes a plan of actions “While school counselors don’t provide therapy, they are often a student’s first contact for mental health issues, as they can make referrals to appropriate resources...counselor’s activities could range from individual sessions to small group counseling, covering topics as varied as grief, divorce, and military families.” Matusek describes an ideal situation between counselors and their students. However, this is not always the case. A counselor’s main goal is to provide academic planning to ensure that their set of students graduate, the student’s mental health often falls second to academics. While this may not be the uniform situation for every single school counselor, this is often how a child with mental health issues is ‘carried’ and ‘supported’ during their high school careers.
In closing, students who know they have a problem that can be fixed, with a little help with professionals, can utilize the resources that their school provides. However, near the end of their high school career, these students should work with their counselor, or trusted adult, to find new and more professional resources to better aid them into their own journey of a stable mind and body. These students should realize that they are going out into the ‘adult’ world. This new era of their lives is not going to provide any hand-outs for them. These students need to take control of their lives and figure out a way to help themselves.
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