By Tatiana Martínez Alvarez, High School Junior • IDRA Newsletter • September 2022 •
Mental health is critical to a person’s social and emotional well-being. Feelings of inadequacy, misery or discontent are examples of what poor mental health can look like. It is probably one of the most challenging things a person can struggle with. Teenage students face mental health issues the most. One out of six teenagers deal with anxiety and depression, but only half receive adequate treatment for their problems (Whitney & Peterson, 2019). Inadequate or untreated mental illness can lead to increased substance abuse, inflated incidence of depression or even early death (NAMI, nd).
Because students’ mental health goes untreated, students disengage in classroom settings, fail throughout the academic year and drop out. However, the numbers are much higher in different racial and ethnic groups. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported attempts at suicide rose by almost 50% among Black students in 2019. In 2019, 23 out of 100,000 American Indian or Alaskan Native youth between the ages of 15 to 24 died by suicide compared to only six out of 100,000 white youth (Ramchand et al., 2021). For LGBTQ+ youth, nearly one-third of students reported seriously considering suicide which was far more than their hetero-normative peers (CDC, 2022).
Despite these grim statistics, superintendents, teachers and policymakers have the decision-making power to lower these numbers by making mental health services readily available in schools. There are multiple ways to do this. For example, they can enforce mandatory mental health training for teachers and school counselors with the goal of learning to prevent suicide and teaching coping skills to students. And they can increase students’ access to vital mental health resources in schools, such as suicide prevention hotlines and self-care apps.
Support received from adequately trained counselors, teachers, school nurses and other campus staff is fundamental to students’ overall well-being and success in school. Many mental health resources are available for educators. For example, the Mental Health Center Network offers a free training package on mental health literacy (MHTTC, 2022). Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is another program that offers essential wellness training.
For educators in Texas, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) provides an eight-hour, face-to-face course on crisis intervention and how to help an individual who is faced with mental health challenges.
Such training enhances techniques and skills for someone in a mental health crisis. It gives educators a better understanding of personal mental health status and a heightened sense of achievement and comprehension. If teachers, school nurses and counselors were required by law to receive mental health training, students could feel more secure and would be more likely to reach out for help if either themselves or someone they know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, substance abuse or self-harm.
Providing mental health services to students is crucial. Policymakers and school board members can make a difference in improving students’ access to mental health services. For example, lawmakers passed Texas Senate Bill 279 (87R) to prevent suicide by making the national suicide prevention phone number available on all student school-issued IDs.
Policymakers can enact policies that protect vulnerable student groups to decrease suicide incidents and psychiatric ward visits, increase student engagement and improve students’ connection to their schools.
Proposed legislation like U.S. Senate Bill 1795 and U.S. House Resolution 7666, the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act, can serve as guidelines and criteria templates for future bills, school board meetings and community awareness.
Policymakers must also prioritize connecting historically marginalized student groups to specialized resources for mental health. Some apps designed for students of color include:
- The Safe Place – a mental health app geared toward the Black community;
- Liberate – a community to heal, create and share;
- Trevor Chat – a suicide and crisis line specialized for LGBTQ+ teens and young adults; and
- Therapy for Latinx – a directory of verified therapists, psychiatrists, community clinics, emergency mental health, life coaches and support groups for the Latinx community.
Increasing mental health awareness and improving students’ access to mental health resources is critical. Whether through hosting a mental-health awareness class once a month or designing digital fliers with links to these resources, such strategies would encourage students to reach out for help and know where to connect.
Policymakers, teachers, and school board members all share the same responsibility: to learn more about mental health via mandatory mental health training and connect students to relevant wellness services, such as self-care apps, call lines or websites. We as a community can rise and make mental health available to all, no matter their race, gender or sexual identity.
CDC. (September 12, 2022). Poor Mental Health is a Growing Problem for Adolescents. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
MCMW. (2022). Mental Health First Aid in Schools. National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
MHTTC. (2022). Classroom WISE – A Training Package on Mental Health Literacy for Educators and School Personnel. Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) Network.
NAMI. (no date). Mental Health In Schools. National Alliance on Mental Illness.
NCBH. (2013). Mental Health First Aid Research Summary. National Council for Behavioral Health.
Online MSW Programs. (2022). 55 Mental Health Resources for People of Color. 2U.
Ramchand, R., Gordon, J.A., & Pearson, J.L. (2021). Trends in Suicide Rates by Race and Ethnicity in the United States. JAMA Network Open, 4(5):e2111563. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11563
Whitney, D.G., & Peterson, M.D. (February 11, 2019). U.S. National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children. JAMA Pediatrics, (4):389-391. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5399
A high school junior, Tatiana Martínez Alvarez is a member of IDRA’s 2022 Youth Advisory Board from the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]