Record editorial: Increased mental health care in schools is a much-needed response to a crisis
There was a time when a school’s responsibility to their students was simply to provide them a solid education and get them to the end of their senior years with diplomas in hand.
As the conversation across the country surrounding mental health has evolved, it’s become increasingly apparent that schools have another critical obligation: ensuring the well-being of the young people who pass through their halls.
Scraping together the necessary resources to fulfill that mission is challenging for school districts, though, particularly in a state like Utah, whose per-pupil funding lags well behind the national average.
Fortunately, schools in Summit County are getting a much-needed boost.
As of this fall, every public school in the county now has access to mental health counselors who visit each week to provide on-site care to students in need. That resource is one of the most meaningful developments so far stemming from Summit County’s new contract with University of Utah’s Healthy U Behavioral to provide its federally mandated behavioral health services.
While residents all over the county should be rejoicing, the change is particularly meaningful on the East Side, where school officials have not had the means to invest in student wellness on the same level their counterparts in the Park City School District have in recent years.
The importance of the efforts to increase mental health care is difficult to overstate. Our schools, to put it bluntly, are facing a crisis.
In Utah, suicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 17, a problem so alarming that the state created a task force to address the issue.
Summit County is not immune.
Recently released results of a biennial state survey, for instance, indicate more than 52% of students in the county — and 40% of sixth-graders, the youngest group surveyed — are “somewhat” or “very worried” about the possibility of one of their peers committing suicide. In the same study, 12% of students reported seriously considering suicide in the previous 12 months, while 58% said they experience moderate depressive symptoms.
Those numbers are staggering and heartbreaking. And they demand a response like the one the county is now beginning to provide through the Healthy U Behavioral program. While the increased presence of counselors in schools is far from a magic bullet, the ability for teachers and administrators to call on professionals to help students who are clearly struggling is a major step forward.
In fact, it may very well save lives.
At the very least, it will give our schools a much better chance in a fight it’s incumbent upon them to win.
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