School counselors say they see more mental health issues in students, see need for services

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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

At a time when President Biden and the federal government have sounded the alarm about a rise in youth mental health issues, school counselors in Kentucky say they too are seeing an increase, and Kentucky lawmakers are working to move several youth-related mental health bills. .

Kristen Wilson, who has been a school counselor at Woodford County High School in Versailles for eight years, told Crystal Sicard of Spectrum News that she has seen an increase in the number of students seeking help for their mental health over the course of of the last year.

“It doesn’t just affect the little ones, it affects everyone,” Wilson told Sicard. “It’s something we take very, very seriously. We don’t want to take any risks. »

Fabian Garcia, a senior at WCHS, told Sicard he sees fellow students struggling with their mental health and is grateful to have resources at school to help them.

“I was in a situation earlier this year and I went to the guidance office and they really helped me,” Garcia said.

Photo by NEA.org

Wilson told Sicard that mental health issues are increasing at all grade levels, among faculty members and adults in the community.

“It’s normal to struggle,” she said. “It’s okay, you know, to have times when you’re a little lost, but it’s also important to reach out to someone. I always tell my students not to struggle in silence.

State lawmakers have worked to improve access to mental health services in Kentucky schools.

In response to the 2018 murders of two students and the injuries of 18 others in a 2019 Marshall County High School shooting, the legislature passed the Safe and Resilient Schools Act. Among other things, it requires one trained school resource officer in each school and one guidance counselor for every 250 students by July 1, 2021, but is subject to the availability of funds and qualified staff. School mental health care providers are part of the Guidance Counselor Requirements Act.

Senate Bill 8 of 2020 said the goal of the law was to have at least one counselor per public school and to have at least one counselor or school mental health service provider per 250 students.

A survey by the Office of the Marshal of Public Schools Safety said in its 2020-21 annual report found that many school districts are still working toward this goal.

The survey found that 99% of Kentucky schools have adopted a trauma-informed approach to education, 97% have a trauma-informed team, and 92% have employed a certified school counselor. However, only 41.88% achieved the goal of one school mental health counselor or provider per 250 students.

The overall ratio of mental health professionals to student is 1:328, but “we see that number growing,” School Safety Marshal Ben Wilcox told the Senate Education Committee Feb. 10.

This year, Senate Bill 102, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, proposes cleanup language for SB 8 that would require local superintendents to provide an annual census of all workplace mental health providers. school and their duties to the state Department of Education. Under SB 8, they only had to report the number of school counselors. The bill awaits committee assignment in the House.

Another mental health bill pending a vote, at the Senate Education Committee, is House Bill 44, sponsored by Rep. Bobby McCool, R-Van Lear (Johnson County) . A local school district’s attendance policy should include provisions regarding a student’s mental or behavioral health status.

Youth mental health is also gaining national attention.

In December, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a youth mental health advisory stating that even before the pandemic, one in three high school students reported lingering feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a 40% increase from 2009. to 2019. And in the same time frame, suicide rates have increased by 57% among people aged 10 to 24. During the pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression have only increased.

President Biden sounded the alarm on youth mental health in his State of the Union address. He offered a proposal to make it easier for school mental health professionals to apply for Medicaid reimbursement and to invest an additional $1 billion in his proposed budget to help schools hire additional counselors and school psychologists. , along with other medical professionals, building on funds already provided to this effort through the US Bailout, the latest pandemic relief bill.

“Let’s take mental health,” Biden said. “Especially among our children, whose lives and education have been turned upside down.”

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