Although one in five students suffer from mental illness, schools often do not screen students for mental health issues. Even if students are successfully identified, many areas lack the community-based mental health treatment options that would be needed to help them, according to a piece by Kaiser Health News.
Just 38 percent of youth with a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder receive treatment services. In 2014, the federal government announced $48 million in new grants to support teachers, schools and communities in recognizing and responding to mental health issues. Still, many students’ mental health problems continue to go unidentified and untreated.
Schools are starting to better recognize that mental health is key to academic and social success, said Darcy Gruttadaro, director of advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Kids spend six hours a day in school, and mental health is essential to learning. So schools that are very data-driven understand that in order for some kids to succeed, their mental health needs must be met,” she said.
Schools vary in the degree to which they are willing and able to accommodate mental health issues. “Some are doing a lot and training teachers on how to recognize warning signs and talk to families. And others are doing very little to understand the needs of students and how to work with families,” said Gruttadaro.
“My training in mental health was one chapter in a book that we covered in one day,” recalls principal John Hurley. Many teachers have experience with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he said, but they don’t have the tools to draw on when dealing with mood disorders. “Because we’re left in the dark, we have to fumble around to figure out what works best. Sometimes you can be wildly successful, and sometimes you can fail miserably and you could have done the exact same thing for two different students.”