In a recent USA Today article, the discussion centered around the mental health crisis of students across America. Schools are often the place where these issues are discovered. The main discussion in the article centered around the need for more psychologists in schools and the very bleak predictions about how long it would take to match the overwhelming mental health needs to the number of psychologists required to meet those needs. It essentially would take decades to train and hire enough psychologists to help our students with the current level of emotional and mental health needs.
As I consider the logic of more psychologists as the remedy for mental health concerns in schools, I have several thoughts. I do believe we need more psychological professionals to offer both the staff and students adequate support. In fact, this has been a need for decades and there has been very little priority to hire the needed psychologists to help our community youth.
As a leader in providing therapeutic communities within our schools and programs, Lakeside gets a first-hand look at the diverse needs of students who are struggling to survive in their public school. What is glaringly apparent is that their needs are extremely diverse. Drug addiction, depression, suicide, academic failure, violence, abuse, family problems, bullying, life trauma and adversity, learning issues, medical issues, peer conflict, and the list goes on.
It’s unrealistic to think any number of psychologists can manage the range of needs that are a part of the lives of our students in today’s schools. There needs to be a network of services and support for students within every school community. In order to be most effective, there should be a continuum of services that will meet students where they are and provide the appropriate help they need. To be realistic, there isn’t enough time or available funding to provide all that’s needed.
Schools have framed themselves as academic institutions. They’re a place for knowledge and learning. However, it’s also a place where children and teenagers spend the bulk of their day. It’s where they make friends, play sports, participate in all kinds of extracurricular activities, and find their identity. Their school is often where they have allegiance and is the focus of their social life. It’s also where they vent their emotions, behavior, and angst. In many ways, schools are their own culture, and often that culture is stress inducing and sometimes seen as adversarial to some students.
If we’re going to make significant impact in schools for students who struggle with their mental health, we have to think of our schools differently. Schools needs to be more inclusive of mental health as a part of their culture. Teachers, administrators, students, and their families should be taught about mental health and related issues.
There also needs to be a variety of professionals who are qualified to meet the plethora of needs students are dealing with. Like it or not, schools are the hub of the community of youth and all that comes with it. We need to see a paradigm shift that is designed for students holistically, and that will take more than a few more psychologists. If we are going to address the multi-faceted needs of students, we need a contextual approach that acknowledges those needs and can provide a new school culture of support and relevant services. It’s why Lakeside provides training and support to our regional schools and beyond.