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Mental Health Matters

Education data and research analysis from Edvantia

Adults speak nostalgically about the glory days of youth, but a recent study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health strikes a different chord. "Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14," researchers report. "Three quarters have begun by age 24. Thus, mental disorders are really the chronic diseases of the young."

Effects of mental health disorders According to former Surgeon General David Satcher, 13.7 million children suffer from diagnosable mental illness in a given year, and "many end up in the juvenile justice system." Untreated early-onset mental disorders are associated with school failure, teenage childbearing, use of alcohol and illegal drugs, suicide, unstable employment, early marriage, and more.

At school, children with untreated mental disorders may face academic and social challenges as they struggle to manage their emotions, focus on tasks or control their behavior.

Barriers Ideally, all children would have access to mental health screening, referral and treatment. But even when families know about problems, they do not always have the knowledge and resources to seek mental health services. Some are reluctant because they fear the stigma attached to mental health problems or don't think treatment would help. Other barriers to mental health care include language and cultural differences, lack of services in the community, and insufficient insurance coverage. African-Americans and American Indians/Alaska natives are more likely than whites to suffer from mental disorders, but generally have less access to mental health services and are less likely to receive needed care.

Relationship to AYP Many students with the greatest need and least access to mental health services may be those within NCLB subgroups. Helping these students make adequate yearly progress might require schools to make stronger links between academic reforms and student support.

What schools can do Often, schools function as the de facto mental health system. How can districts maximize their mental health programs? According to the Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA, research supports practices that focus on: a universal promotion of healthy development; prevention of problems and promotion of protective factors; early intervention, with a targeted focus on specific problems or at-risk groups; and providing treatments based on the best available evidence.

According to research, school-based mental health programs are more likely to be effective when they:

Provide a comprehensive system of supports

Take a proactive, preventive and multifaceted approach

Offer a continuum of interventions and services

Are responsive to students' individual, developmental and cultural differences

Are coordinated and fully integrated with other education programs, school improvement plans, and services

Include accountability and evaluation based on student outcomes

Build strong connections to families, communities and appropriate agencies

Employ credentialed, professional school counselors.

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