Address mental health in school

In a class of 25 students, five of them may be struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

And yet nearly 80 percent of children who need mental health services won’t get them.

Maybe this hits home because it’s your child who needs the help he’s not getting. Either way, this issue affects everyone. These are children who go to our public and private schools. These are neighbours, friends, and relatives. And they need our help.

Why Does Mental Health Matter in Schools?

Only about 40 percent of students with mental health disorders and behavioural issues graduate from high school. This is a stark contrast to the national average graduation rate of 76 percent.

Because mental health problems often develop during childhood and adolescence, it’s important that we’re addressing this at school. Common mental health issues like anxiety and depression are treatable, and early intervention is most effective.

When a child gets help for a mental health issue early on, he or she will have a greater chance to succeed in school and at life.

Without the right treatment, children with mental health issues are much more likely to fall into patterns of substance abuse and risk-taking behaviour. Young adults who suffer silently are likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. And teens who experiment at a young age are more likely to develop an addiction that follows into adulthood.

How to Address Problems at School

If you think your child needs extra attention at school because of a mental health issue, it’s important that you discuss the problem with your child’s teachers. They may or may not be aware of an issue, so it’s crucial that you discuss it with them. Teaches may have ideas and be willing to employ new strategies to help your child excel.

This initial conversation should lay the foundation for a solid working relationship between the parents and teachers. This may not always be easy, but keep in mind that you all have a common goal in mind. Both parents and teachers want the child to be successful in school and life.

In addition to talking with teachers, you may want to include the principle and school guidance counsellor.

If you feel like your child isn’t getting the attention he needs after going this route, he may need more support. While you’re addressing the underlying issues, your child should be learning at school so he doesn’t fall behind. Your child may qualify for a special education program or Section 504 support.

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Specifically, it helps prevent discrimination against people with disabilities and facilitates federal financial assistance. In order to qualify for assistance, your child must “have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Mental illnesses and some specific learning disabilities are included.

An example of a child who qualifies for Section 504 support would be one who previously excelled in their academic studies before becoming diagnosed with depression. Schools have school-based 504 teams and a 504 coordinator to help with the logistics of getting support. This person is often the school guidance counsellor. If you think your child may qualify, start by bringing it up at school. From here, the school counsellors can help you through the process.

Looking towards a brighter future

Although there may be more we can do to address mental health issues in school, there are programs in place to help now. The key is to become your student’s greatest advocate. Never stop fighting to get help for your child when she needs it.

If you’re a student struggling with a mental health issue, your parents can help. Talking about the problem at home is a good first step. If you feel like you need more support at school, you can also talk to your teacher about the problem. The important part is to avoid going it alone. Internalizing mental health issues will only lead to bigger problems.

And if you have a friend who is struggling with a mental health issue, encourage them to get help. If you think they may be a danger to themselves or someone else, talk to an adult about what’s going on.

Mental health issues are becoming more commonplace, but we can all do our part to ensure everyone who needs help gets help.

Article provided by Trevor McDonald