This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, during which the National Alliance on Mental Illness calls on all of us to come together in “shining a light on mental illness and replacing stigma with hope.”
According to NAMI, many mental health conditions first occur in adolescence, with half of individuals living with mental illness experiencing the onset of symptoms by age 14. One in five youth live with a mental health condition.
The tragedy is that fewer than half of these individuals receive the services they need – and this directly affects whether our students will succeed in the classroom and graduate on time, prepared for the future.
Because undiagnosed or inadequately treated mental health conditions can affect a student’s ability to learn, grow, and develop, and because educators and school staff are well positioned to identify the early warning signs, our schools and community agencies must work well together to help our children. Early detection and intervention strategies work. They make our students more resilient, and help them to succeed in school and life.
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Working with mental health service providers, Durham Public Schools provides services using the “Multi-Tiered System of Support” for our students. That is a jargon-heavy title, but what it means is that we use a graduated approach to strategies to supporting struggling students by designing, implementing and monitoring effective, research-based interventions and customizing more intensive services based on the needs of the child.
We are now providing co-located mental health services on our K-8 and secondary school campuses for students whose parents or guardians have provided written consent and who are not already connected with a mental health provider. Four DPS-approved mental health providers offer school-based co-located mental health services that include comprehensive assessments; individual, group and family therapy; and training and consultation for school and district staff.
Eventually we intend to provide these services in all of our schools. We piloted this program with one of our community providers working in four schools during the 2014-15 school year: Southern School of Energy and Sustainability, Githens Middle, Brogden Middle and Eastway Elementary. Last year, we expanded co-located services to all 30 of our elementary schools, as well as the original middle and high school pilots.
This school year, we have expanded to all middle schools, Durham School of the Arts, Lakeview School, and The School for Creative Studies. We are also collaborating with Duke/Durham Regional Hospital and local pediatricians to streamline the referral process to secure co-located mental health services.
Mental health is a concern for every child, but we especially must support those students whose families have poor access to health care or are otherwise facing poverty, homelessness and other challenges to a child’s wellbeing. Student mental health is itself an equity issue: we must provide these mental health supports to our children not only for its own sake, but also to do our part in eliminating the achievement gap that leaves some students prepared for the future and others lost.
During this Mental Health Awareness Week, I invite you to think about all of our students. Each of them deserves the support of our families, schools and agencies to help them realize their dreams. Every child deserves to succeed, and supporting their mental health is essential to meeting that goal.
Bert L’Homme is the superintendent of Durham Public Schools.
Children and mental health
Children’s mental health problems are real, common and treatable.
Untreated mental health problems can disrupt children’s functioning at home, school and in the community. Without treatment, children with mental health issues are at increased risk of school failure, contact with the criminal justice system, dependence on social services, and even suicide.
Parents and family members are usually the first to notice if a child has problems with emotions or behavior. Your observations, along with those of teachers and other caregivers, can help determine whether you need to seek help for your child.
The following signs may indicate the need for professional help:
▪ Decline in school performance
▪ Poor grades despite strong efforts
▪ Constant worry or anxiety
▪ Repeated refusal to go to school or to take part in normal activities
▪ Hyperactivity or fidgeting
▪ Persistent nightmares
▪ Persistent disobedience or aggression
▪ Frequent temper tantrums
▪ Depression, sadness or irritability
Source: Mental Health America