There is a silent epidemic that knows no borders. It does not discriminate among race, gender or income, and it is currently affecting school-aged children in the United States.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six children ages 2-8 has a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. Additionally, approximately three in four children ages 3-17 who struggle with depression also have anxiety.
Despite these statistics, only approximately 16% of children across the U.S. receive early mental health services.
Lisa Damor, clinical psychologist and author of the book “Under Pressure,” suggests that for the first time in history, children are often experiencing more stress than their parents. Stress in young people is contributing to high rates of anxiety and depression, as well as increasingly alarming suicide rates. The CDC reports that suicide is the second most common cause of death for youth ages 10-19.
Many factors contribute to these numbers, including low self-esteem, social media, bullying, the pressure to achieve, competitive college admissions and undiagnosed or undermanaged mental health disorders.
As concerned citizens, our voices are key to advocate for the mental health for our future leaders. We have a responsibility to speak up as parents, school counselors, social workers and active voters.
U.S. Senate Bill 1122, the Mental Health Services for Students Act of 2019, pushes to increase the access children have to school counseling and other mental health programming across the U.S. It will extend the funding available through Project AWARE, which includes grants that state educational agencies can apply for to support prevention, treatment and intervention for young students with mental health concerns.
Project AWARE helps employ and train certified mental health professionals who meet state regulations for practice. These professionals create a safe environment for students seeking support.
According to the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare, one of its “Grand Challenges to Social Work” includes “ensuring healthy development for all youth.” With increased funding for mental health services in education, children are likely to be better students and healthier people.
The National Association of School Psychologists reveals that research demonstrates that students who receive social, emotional and mental health support do better academically. Early intervention and attention to student mental health challenges are shown to reduce suicide rates, substance abuse, chronic absences and the threat of violence in schools. Additionally, mental health resources for youth increase overall high school graduation rates and help children have access to mental health care, regardless of their race, gender or family income.
If a child’s mental health is not being taken care of, we cannot expect them to do well in school, and to become contributing members to our communities. Mental health must be our No. 1 priority when it comes to supporting the education of our future leaders.
To help get this message across to legislators, vote when possible. In the meantime, call your representative in support of SB 1122. In the Los Altos/Mountain View area, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo welcomes calls from constituents to her district office regarding advocacy. Call her office at 323-2984.
Let’s look out for our kids and make change together.
Emily Ott and Amberlyn Sierra are graduate students in social work at USC.