As the 2020 Legislative Session begins, few issues are as important as mental health and schools.
School safety must prioritize prevention, early intervention, and treatment services as they relate to behavioral health. Certainly, we know that students who are stressed or depressed may not feel safe or connected at school and may have difficulty managing their emotions— thereby affecting their ability to learn and interact as other students do. These students are also at higher risk for behavioral and disciplinary issues, bullying, substance use and dropping out of school.
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), 1 out of 5 children ages 13-18 have a serious mental illness. The IYI (Indiana Youth Institute) Kids Count Data from 2018 indicates that 5% of all children in Indiana have been diagnosed with depression and almost 10% have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. 1 out of 5 high school students in Indiana have thought about killing themselves and suicide is the second leading cause of death for students ages 14-24.
We know that adverse childhood experiences, which are stressful and traumatic incidents such as abuse or neglect, contribute to increased mental health and substance use. With many students spending more awake time at school than in their own home, the school system does and should play an integral role in ensuring that these students are receiving the mental health services they need to be successful - academically, emotionally, and socially.
"Secure schools" should be more than buildings with drug or firearms sniffing dogs, security systems or metal detectors. While those measures can be a crucial part of protecting our students and staff, we need to effectively address student mental health and identify those students at higher risk—or we are not comprehensively examining school safety and potentially impacting some of the violence that has unfortunately become a part of our students' lives.
By providing the opportunity for schools to offer behavioral health programing with funding to increase capacity, schools can develop and maintain partnerships with community mental health service providers and create a safety net for those students and their families who may otherwise not receive the services they need. Most importantly, services in schools provide the opportunity for early intervention and prevention.
Mental Health America stands ready to support this critical effort in the upcoming Indiana General Assembly.