School districts struggle to address youth mental health crisis

DENVER – The past few years have taken a toll on the mental health of…

School districts struggle to address youth mental health crisis

DENVER – The past few years have taken a toll on the mental health of many Americans, especially students.

School districts, including in Colorado, have struggled to keep up in helping students deal with mental health issues.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of youth, 44% of high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021.

Nearly half of LGBTQ2+ students seriously considered attempting suicide, according to the survey.

It also found Native American (16%) and Black (14%) students were more likely than others to have attempted suicide.

“As we look at the data, we know that students are experiencing more heightened sense of anxiety, depressive type symptoms,” said Meredith Fatseas, senior manager for mental health at Denver Public Schools.

Fatseas says schools play a critical role in helping students deal with mental health challenges.

“We’re with students a majority of the day and we have a role to play in providing access to service,” said Fatseas.

She says every DPS school has at least one full-time mental health provider.

“We’ve staffed our schools at high ratios with mental health providers, and we know it’s still not enough,” said Fatseas.

Schools districts struggle to address youth mental health crisis

DPS has invested millions of dollars toward mental health resources in recent years, including more than $34 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding, according to district documents.

The district also launched a pilot program to provide more mental health professionals to support students.

Like other districts, DPS is impacted by a nationwide shortage of mental health professionals.

The National Association of School Psychologists, for instance, recommends one psychologist for every 500 students.

In Colorado, there was one school psychologist for every 942 students during the 2021-22 school year.

The American School Counselor Association recommends one school counselor for every 250 students.

In Colorado during the 2020-21 school year, there was one school counselor for every 278 students.

Fatseas says the lack of diversity in the mental health field also makes the situation worse, especially in a district as diverse as Denver, where 75% of the students are minorities.

“It’s important to ensure that we have diverse mental health providers who understand and can relate to our students and our families,” said Fatseas. “It helps our students and families feel connected and understood, and that approach may need to look differently based on the cultural background of the family to ensure that it’s successful.”

A lack of diversity may explain why only seven percent of students in a nationwide survey said they turn to school officials to talk about mental health problems.

Most of the students surveyed said they turn to parents and friends for mental health information.

Four out of five students who turned to teachers and other adults at their schools said they trusted them to provide mental health information.

Most teens said they also wanted their schools to play a bigger role in addressing mental health issues.

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