Nonprofit Group Urges School Districts to Focus on Mental Health Support
Friday, May 12, 2023
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and one group wants school districts in Utah and across the country to focus on critical mental health support.
According to Mental Health America, in 2022 Utah ranked 32nd in the country when it came to the prevalence of mental health challenges and access to care for youth.
Denise Forte, president and CEO of The Education Trust, said before the pandemic, things like anxiety and depression were already becoming more common among children and adolescents, and it has become more severe.
Forte pointed out as states grapple with the looming end of federal pandemic assistance, many students are still struggling.
"Suicide rates are up. Cyberbullying is up. We've recently learned that one in five students has seriously considered suicide, whereas one in 10 has attempted suicide," Forte outlined. "Those numbers really show a significant problem."
Forte emphasized her group is pleased the federal government has invested money in supporting students' mental health, but argued it is important to know if states and school districts are using those funds effectively. She added it is critical for students to have access to psychologists, counselors and social workers to help foster students' social, emotional and academic development.
The Education Trust has laid out potential steps federal, state and local education leaders can take to enact policies they believe will help address student needs and improve academic success.
Forte acknowledged although rules and policies are intended to be applied equally across the board regardless of one's background, it is not always the case.
"What we are really calling for is making sure that policymakers and school leaderships work in partnerships with communities and families to create physically safe and emotionally supportive environments," Forte stressed. "Using evidence-based approaches that are reflective and inclusive of the students that they serve."
Forte added it is crucial for students to feel supported and emotionally strong so they can grow into "healthy, thriving adults." She finds it troubling, amid a surge in gun violence and increased reports of student behavior problems, lawmakers and school leaders nationwide are moving to "harden" schools with things such as metal detectors, school resource officers and implement harsh discipline policies.
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