From the Editor: Fight the stigma

I’ve been an education writer long enough to remember when student mental health was considered to be outside the purview of schools. The stigma—felt by the students and their families most keenly—meant such topics were rarely discussed at school.

Of course, after years of research, we know that the mental health status of children is a critical part of academic achievement and success. And we know that many more children are affected by mental disorders than was believed previously.

An estimated 49.5 percent of adolescents have a mental disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). For children ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent. Of adolescents with a mental disorder, an estimated 22.2 percent have severe impairment.

These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety.

The statistics may or may not include students who are exposed at home or in their neighborhoods to trauma such as domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, physical and emotional abuse, and sexual abuse and assault. We know those vulnerable students are at risk for mental and emotional problems, as are students who are bullied at school.

Schools can’t solve these issues, and they certainly can’t handle them alone. Many districts reach out to community groups, social services, and nonprofits for help to deliver services to their students and their families.

I wish I could say that the stigma of mental health issues is gone. Unfortunately, many children and families continue to be ashamed of these conditions and diagnoses. However, as you can see from the articles in this issue, schools continue to make progress in this area. I hope you find some ideas and programs that can help you shine the light in your districts.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Until next issue . . .

Kathleen Vail, Editor-in-Chief,
Follow me on Twitter @ASBJEditor.

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