Are we on the verge of a mental crisis among youth?

An estimated 20% of all children and youth now suffer from “significant” mental health conditions.

As school doors open for the new school year, teachers everywhere are working hard to meet all the unique needs of the children in their classrooms. For many of these children, those unique needs include mental health concerns.

Mental health refers to one’s ability to cope with normal stress in their life, as well as being able to be productive. Unfortunately, 20% of all children and youth suffer from significant mental health conditions. For half of those children, their mental health conditions begin before the age of 14, but sadly, only one in five will receive treatment for their condition. There are many reasons for students not getting treatment, including a lack of treatment options and the stigma related to mental health. However, addressing the mental health needs of students is important for many reasons. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents. Over 90% of children and adolescents who commit suicide have a mental health disorder. Other negative outcomes include a higher likelihood of dropping out of school and failing courses.

Intervening early when there are concerns about possible mental health issues is ideal. Although the symptoms of mental health conditions vary, there are some warning signs to watch for. If family members notice a change in their child’s temperament, mood or outlook, a decline in school performance, or social interactions with others, the family may want to consider a visit their child’s teacher, school counselor or pediatrician. There is no test or easy way to determine if someone suffers from a mental health condition and only licensed professionals should diagnose mental health conditions.

While statistics paint a dismal outlook for children and youth with mental health issues, there are supports that can be put in place to help students. Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267) is collaborating with educators to assist in meeting the mental health needs of children and youth. Our agency provides professional development that will help educators understand various mental health disorders and the evidence-based interventions that can support children and youth. This course, entitled Mental Health in Schools: Characteristics and Interventions is offered at least once a year to educators throughout the AEA. Additionally, AEA 267 has a behavior resource team that consists of staff members with expertise in assessment and strategies for students with challenging behaviors. This team is a resource for educators who work with students and need additional suggestions and support to help individual students in the area of behavior. Finally, our media center has a wide variety of mental health resources available for check out to support teachers.

Children and youth with mental health concerns can lead normal and productive lives. At AEA 267, we are pleased to provide opportunities and support to educators to help them understand and address the mental health needs of children.

Dr. Karen Aldrich, AEA 267 Special Education Coordinator

Dr. Karen Aldrich, AEA 267 Special Education Coordinator

Dr. Karen Aldrich is a Special Education Coordinator with Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267). She can be reached at (641)-844-2480 or kaldrich@aea267.k12.ia.us

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