According to the Mental Health Association in New York State, 22 percent of youths ages 13 to 18 experience some form of serious mental disorder.
In a classroom of 25, that means five of those students are living with anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, depression, Tourette syndrome or other mental health issues.
Perhaps more troubling, only about 40 percent of those with a mental illness seek treatment, and half of those who do wait an average of 10 years from the time they begin experiencing symptoms before getting help. Furthermore, one in 12 high school students attempt suicide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not surprisingly, the need to strengthen mental health in our schools has emerged as a major priority for several statewide groups including the New York State School Boards Association and New York State Council of School Superintendents.
Likewise, our BOCES continues to explore the issue with our region’s schools. At a recent Saturday Morning Board Workshop with Jhone Ebert, the senior deputy commissioner for the State Education Department, board members and superintendents spent part of the morning discussing mental health.
As a BOCES, one of our goals is to build capacity for our school districts, allowing them to do together what may be difficult to do alone. Because our students’ mental health is an important concern, we are working together to address the growing mental health needs in our schools in several ways:
- Questar III is forming a task force of superintendents, school administrators, counselors, community leaders and representatives from service providers to explore how to collaborate on services and programming. Questar III is looking to develop a new Community Schools service that would benefit our region’s students and schools.
- As part of this effort, we are also looking to engage our county officials – to share our expertise, better understand our respective services and overlap with students, and to leverage our resources wherever possible.
- We are preparing to provide mental health training to local educators. Two of our School Improvements specialists recently became certified in youth mental first aid. In partnership with the Rensselaer County Department of Mental Health, they will be offering teachers the opportunity to earn certification in this area. This professional development is designed to help adults know how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis.
- With Capital Region BOCES and Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex County BOCES, we are working together to create a pilot recovery high school – to assist students with substance abuse issues. According to the 2010 New York State Department of Health substance abuse figures and U.S. Census Bureau population records, approximately 10.22 percent of youths statewide, ages 12-17, had a substance abuse problem at that time.
Starting on July 1, 2018, all New York State schools will be required to provide mental health education (as well as physical health) as part of health education in schools.
For far too long, mental illness has been a silent epidemic. Integrating mental health into the school curriculum will not only increase understanding and awareness, but it will also help to reduce the stigma or silence. This is why we are forming the task force – to begin a regional conversation about the impact on students and what we should do collaboratively to support their needs.
Ultimately, all school staff play a role in ensuring the social and emotional well-being of our students. While schools are uniquely positioned to identify and address these student needs, they also need additional support to fulfill this growing area of concern. We look forward to working with our districts, mental health professionals, the state and others to improve mental health education and services in our schools.