When I was in high school in the 90s, I had no idea what mental health was. No one talked about it. When I began exhibiting strange behaviors at this age, I had no language to explain it and my parents had to go off-campus to get help.
Today there are many children and teens, who like me, experience mood and behavior changes and have no place to talk about it. There are still others who have no place to talk about bullying, violence and racial and gender injustices. Children feel vulnerable about these issues and need a safe, confidential place to air out what is in their minds. The National Center for School Mental Health estimates that between 12 and 22 percent of children and youth have or will develop a diagnosable mental health condition.
School-based mental health centers should be funded and celebrated as a safe space for them to work out problems of the mind.
I understand the opposing argument about the cost of these centers as well as parents not wanting children and teens exposed to Critical Race Theory and gender studies. However, mental health should be all inclusive and non-partisan and not centered around a certain belief.
Mental health centers can save lives, prevent school violence, and give children and teens a space to share what is going on without feeling embarrassed.
A United States Department of Health and Human Services study indicates that teens are more comfortable accessing health-based services through school-based clinics in one location. The benefits of such clinics in schools serve to help build social skills, leadership, self-awareness, and caring connections to adults and the school community. These centers also improve truancy and disciplinary problems.
Rural and urban school districts often get short-changed mental health services leaving students having to travel at least one hour to get outside mental health care. Many families cannot afford to go to outside providers either with inflation and the cost of living going up. Many students are uninsured or underinsured and mental health is not a necessity for these families. In addition to the cost of outside services, time is taken away from homework and after school activities to seek outside providers.
What municipalities need are safe, non-stigmatizing, and supportive natural environments in which children and families have access to prevention, early intervention, and treatment in school-based programs.
The legislature should support the implementation of Public Act 15-59 in favor of creating school-based mental health centers in all our schools.
Alexis Zinkerman is a writer with A Mile a Minute Productions in West Hartford.