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Mental health concerns are becoming more and more prevalent among teenagers. Thus, the public schools are expected to play a more active role in helping with a student’s health and welfare. How much are the schools doing? And what are exactly are they doing to help?
This year, the guidance office has seen an increase in the number of students with mental health issues. Unfortunately, this year, the school board has cut one of the guidance counselors, as a result of budget cuts.
It is not unusual to have a classroom in which one out of five students has a mental illness. A study conducted by the Young People’s program revealed that 54% of people said that mental illness had an impact on their education. The study also revealed that 26% said that mental illness affected their job prospects. Half of the number of children with mental illnesses who suffer from anxiety in a social setting drop out of high school.
The common disorders that students cope with in school are ADD/ADHD attention spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression, and mood disorders, according to Dr. Ramlah Vahanvaty, a pediatrician at Zahra Pediatrics, which is located in East Stroudsburg.
How do the teachers detect symptoms among teenagers, on symptoms of mental illness?
“Most teachers know the basic signs of mental illness,” said SHS nurse Ms. Jillian Haubrich “Withdrawal in activity, not taking care of one’s self, excessive weight gain or weight loss, and drastic change in behavior…”
However, Ms. Jean Dunback-Costanzi, who is both a guidance counselor and SAP (a support program at SHS) coordinator, readily admits that teachers are not trained- to detect mental illness among students. “Mental disorders affect the overall functioning of a child and it’s very important to address and treat it appropriately. Otherwise, it adversely affects their school life, their family life, their social life, and most of all, their own self-esteem and self-worth,” said Dr Vahanvaty.
If symptoms are identified and dealt with as soon as possible, students can avoid a lot of long-term suffering. Several studies show that students who use SBHCs (School Based Health Center) are twice as likely to stay in school as students who do not use SBHC’s.
So, what kind, if any, assistance programs has the SASD implemented to support students with mental health issues?
One program at SHS is called the Student Assistance Program (SAP). This program is sponsored by mental health, and drug/alcohol prevention programs. SAP is designed to assist students in drug and mental health issues that serve as a barrier to a student’s success.
However, SAP itself does not directly provide personal assistance to children in need. SAP identifies the children, and then-they refer them to mental health agencies, or drug and alcohol agencies. A common mental health service that SAP refers students to is CMP (Carbon Monroe Pike Mental Health and Development Services), an agency that provides mental health and developmental services.
“It would be helpful if there are programs for teachers to better recognize signs of mental illness,” said Dunback-Costanzi. “Teachers cannot treat mental illness, they should refer the student to a counsellor, and then the counselor decides whether we should refer the student to a mental health agency,” she explained.
Haubrich also agrees that having mental health programs are essential in today’s society.
“A lot of stress is put on students, which leads to anxiety and depression. The more staff and administration are aware of mental illness, then the more we are able to help students in needs of assistance,” she added.
There are school districts that provide mental health programs, in and out of the county. These mental health programs have mental health workers that work as a full-time staff member, or who are contracted for part time services. Pocono Mountain West and East Stroudsburg South provide these mental health programs, along with CMP (Carbon Monroe Pike Mental Health and Development Services), for students who need necessary access to it.
“We as guidance counselors believe that we should have at least a part-time mental health worker in the school,” said Dunback-Costanzi.
Studies and professionals agree on the benefits of providing students with mental health services to teenagers in today’s society. There should be support, services, programs, efforts, and awareness to promote the needs of mental health for teenagers in Stroudsburg, and for teenagers all across America.