By Kelly Derlein, School Counselor and member of Suicide Prevention Coalition
It is estimated one in five students, age 5 – 17, have an emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder. Research suggests only 20 percent of these students receive the necessary mental health services. In approximately 90 percent of deaths by suicide, the person had a mental health disorder. The Center for Disease Control ranks suicide as the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults (ages 10-19). It is further estimated that for every student who dies by suicide another 100-200 make an attempt.
These alarming statistics show the need for adults who are trained in identifying signs of mental health concerns. Students’ mental health needs are often first noticed in the school setting. School counselors are one of the first adults in a child’s life to address behaviors that could signal something more serious. Warning signs which may be observed include a change in school performance or attendance; mood changes; increased disciplinary problems at school; or concerns at home.
Mental health challenges are so significant in one out of ten youth that their ability to function at home, school or in the community is negatively impacted. The unmet mental health needs in students can contribute to difficulties in academic success and social/emotional concerns. School counselors intervene with students experiencing mental health concerns to increase student success by providing short-term counseling. The focus of the counseling is to help remove any barriers to learning what the student may be facing. Often, school counselors may be the only counseling professionals available to students and their families.
Early detection and intervention is only one of the goals of the School Counseling Department when it comes to student mental health. Prevention is another main goal. Through a comprehensive school counseling program, school counselors provide education for all students in healthy behaviors and mental health awareness. Removing the stigma of mental health issues, developing coping skills and healthy habits, along with learning ways to get help are goals of the classroom lessons. Student mental health awareness education is also provided to teachers and administrators on an annual basis.
School counselors are in the unique position to provide education to all students on mental health; identify students which may be experiencing mental health problems; provide short-term counseling and refer students for additional supports. All of these services are key to improving student mental health.