We need mental health resources in K-12 schools now

Sile Surman, Columnist

As one of many college students taking online classes, readjusting didn’t come easily to me. With that said, I truly can’t imagine what grade school-aged kids are going through right now. I am genuinely worried about their mental health, especially with the current pandemic conditions. With possible budget cuts to school-based mental health programs across the country, we need to make mental health support a priority in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools everywhere.

Every year in the U.S., one in six children between the ages of 6-17 struggles with a mental illness. With the challenges brought about by the pandemic, families and children are experiencing unprecedented hardships. Social isolation, changing financial circumstances and concern for family members related to the virus all contribute to current stress in children and teens. Kids everywhere are cut off from regular social interaction and left alone to handle emotional stress. The collapse of social support networks causes further distress in isolated kids. Financial troubles, job loss and housing expenses all add to fear and worry for children in affected households. These conditions increase the risk of short-term and long-term mental health issues for this population.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic show the dire need for mental health professionals in K-12 schools. Counselors and social workers provide essential support for students who are struggling, especially for families who cannot afford external therapy.

At my high school, many students depended on those resources for support. Outside options are often incredibly expensive and financially inaccessible.

Parents everywhere are placed in the tough situation of either sending their kids back to school or keeping them at home with online learning. Many worry about the effects of social isolation and are concerned about their children’s well being. Regardless, the reduced interactions with teachers and peers have negatively impacted social and emotional growth as a result. If their children have access to school programs that address these problems, this can reassure worried parents.

Some states have already recognized this need and increased the funding of mental health programs in schools. Unfortunately, others have considered cutting funding due to budget deficits. 

Illustration by Kiara Paninos.

In Washington state, public school systems are expected to provide access to mental health professionals, like school counselors, psychologists or social workers. With changing circumstances under the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have become an especially critical resource for struggling students. 

Children and teens are an incredibly resilient bunch, but I feel for the kids who are in this tough situation. If I were in this situation right now, I would be grateful for any support that I could get. Now, more than ever, access to mental health resources is critical for academic performance and emotional welfare. Students in unstable households and low-income families especially depend on the presence of support networks and trained mental health professionals.

With the increasing possibility of exacerbated mental health crises in schools due to the pandemic, state and local mental health budgets should not be cut as a result of deficits. Instead, the funding should remain intact because these programs provide essential support for students struggling to adapt and cope with the circumstances.

Dealing with mental illness right now can be an especially isolating experience in this pandemic. Let’s not leave kids and teens behind to struggle alone.