The $18 million solution: Increase access to mental health resources

Graphic by: Dunya Omar

Imagine walking down the hallway toward the front office, holding in tears, just needing someone to talk to so you can make it through your last two classes.

When you walk through the door, you are greeted at the front desk.

“Good afternoon,” a front office secretary says to you. “What’s wrong?” 

You can feel the tears building up.

“I need to speak to a counselor, please.”

A few tears slip out.

“You’re going to need to log into the student service page and request a time,” says the secretary. “It looks like the next available slot is in about three weeks.”

The tears start falling, fast.

“OK,” you whisper.

You leave with your head down and vision blurred.

The embarrassment of heading back to class with your eyes watering and face flushed is almost unbearable. When you walk toward your seat you can feel 22 sets of eyes staring at you, some filled with judgment, others pity, but all begging to know what happened.

For too many students, this hypothetical scenario is their reality.

This is a real barrier to academic success. Instead of going to class able to focus, students oftentimes show up distracted and disengaged. And while this doesn’t qualify as a “crisis,” it still needs immediate attention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three high school students throughout the United States experience symptoms of depression, while one in six youth have made a suicide plan. These statistics have both increased by at least 40 percent since 2009 and are expected to keep rising.

Additionally, according to the American School Counselor Association, the ideal caseload for a counselor is around 250 students. At Riverside, a counselor’s average caseload is around 350. The state average in North Carolina is 386.

Currently, DPS as a whole has access to three different mental health programs: co-located services, Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS), and Inner Explorer. But the availability of these programs varies greatly depending on the school.

Most schools have at least one of these services available, but access can be very limited. In order for students to actually use these services, schools need to have trained staff members on campus, and most schools don’t, due to the cost and time it takes to complete these training sessions.

The $18 million grant DPS recently received from MacKenzie Scott could train a lot of faculty and staff members and could pay for a lot of additional programs, too.

Instead of walking back to class trying to hide your tears, imagine returning refreshed and relieved. When you enter the front office, someone greets you and asks what’s wrong. You feel the tears building up, and a few slip out, but instead of being told to schedule an appointment, you walk to your counselor’s office right away.

You sink into the chair, feeling no embarrassment about the tears sliding down your face or what you’re about to say. Your counselor was available. You have a great conversation and use the tools and strategies they learned from their professional training.

You can finally start to breathe again, and your heart is no longer beating out of your chest because you know you’ll be able to make it through your last two classes without feeling the stares piercing through your skin at each and every movement.

This could easily become a reality. DPS could greatly improve mental health support and accessibility with its new grant money, which would not only better the lives of 32,000 students but would also immensely enhance the district’s overall academic success.

This op-ed was previously published by Indy Week

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