Advocating For a Student's Mental Health

A guest post by Michelle Manno

Did you know that one in five children in the United States shows signs of mental health disorders? Not only that, but a study from the Child Mind Institute found that an estimated 17 million children and young adults have (or will be diagnosed with) a mental disorder. However, only 20 percent of those children with receive adequate care. 

 Once labeled a “silent epidemic,” the mental health concerns of today’s children have grown louder. A 2013 study from the CDC investigated mental illness among children ages 3-17 years old. The study was the first time that children's mental illness had been documented at a federal level. This study also brought about the first operational definition of mental disorders in children, now defined as “serious deviations from expected cognitive, social, and emotional development.” Along with this new definition, the CDC found that children’s mental health is not only an education or psychiatric issue — it’s also a public health concern.

Of the over 1 million children affected by mental health disorders, the CDC found the breakdown for children aged 3-17 years old to be:

■ Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: 6.8 percent

■ Behavioral or conduct problems: 3.5 percent

■ Anxiety: 3 percent

■ Depression: 2 percent ■ Autism spectrum disorder: 1.1 percent

■ Tourette syndrome: 0.2 percent

The study also found that children with the above diagnoses have a higher risk of drug and alcohol use (4.7 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively), cigarette dependence (2.8 percent), and suicide. Eight percent of adolescents reported an average of 14 “mentally unhealthy days” in a given month. According to the CDC, suicide is the No. 2 cause of death in youth aged 10-24 years old and accounts for close to 5,000 deaths per year.

It is the duty of not only the education and mental health communities, but also of the public as a whole to pour resources into support, advocacy, and awareness. By sharing resources, best practices and organizations within the community, we can work to amplify the voices of the 1 million children affected each year. Below are some organizations whose mission focuses on the mental health of children and students — with resources to be implemented both in school and at home.

Learn more about these organizations and how you can help.

1. The Jed Foundation (JED) JED “empowers teens and young adults with the skills and support to grow into healthy, thriving adults,” and provides the general public with a comprehensive list of actionable ways to be a mental health advocates on a daily basis.

2. National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) NAMI is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the United States. They provide training programs for schools, teachers, and parents that address youth mental health and provide actionable strategies that can be implemented in the classroom and at home. Along with training programs, they urge the general public to take the “stigmafree Pledge” to spread awareness and advocacy in their communities.

3. The Trevor Project The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. There are multiple ways that the education community can support, such as participating in its Lifeguard Workshop — an online learning tool with curriculum and teacher resources for secondary school classrooms. Resources are also provided for those not in the classroom to get involved.

4. Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH) The ACMH is a champion of children’s mental, emotional, and behavioral health. It provides support and resources to advocate to children, youth, and their families. They run parent and child support projects, as well as multiple opportunities for advocacy among the general population.

5. Young Minds Advocacy The goal of Young Minds Advocacy is to address and close the gap in young people’s adequate mental health care — focusing specifically on at-risk youth with “serious” mental health needs. The organization offers a range of ways the public can support their cause, from reading its blog to donating money.

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About the author:  

Michelle Manno is an education writer at 2U. She works with schools such as Counseling@NYU, the online master's in school counseling from NYU Steinhardt, to create resources that support K-12 students. Say hi on Twitter @michellermanno.