Americans statistically deal with mental illness/disorder more than any other high-income nation in the world. Almost one in four adults in the United States suffers from a mental illness of some kind, including anxiety, high stress, or depression. But as 50% of mental health issues are established by age 14-17, signs of mental illness are commonly exhibited in adolescents and teens.
Likewise, our mental health crisis has manifested in younger generations as more children in schools have exhibited discernible signs of mental illness. Aside from anxiety and depression, which are present in 4.4% and 9.4% in the child population, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD) are all becoming increasingly common in adolescents and pre-teens.
Black students with mental illness are proportionally among the least likely to pursue and receive mental health services, along with Hispanic and Asian students.
Black children are more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other challenges in maintaining mental health than non-Black peers, as issues are typically more persistent. Additionally, statistics report that suicide among Black youth is increasing at a faster rate than any other racial group at 36.6%. Among other causes, racism against Black children is attributable as a huge factor and cause of poor mental health. Black adolescents are also much less likely than their white peers to seek and find mental health care.
As mental illness and behavior disorders have the potential to derail students subjected to the typical classroom environment, educators have taken steps to adapt in order to provide the best support in achieving academic success. Across states such as California, Texas, Colorado, and Maryland, education has been made more accessible for students with obstacles in mental wellness either through the work of teachers or school boards.
Here in Dallas, Momentous School provides an educational space that emphasizes emotional understanding and social learning as much as it does the core curriculum to a student body that is 99.5% non-white. Breathing exercises, consistent testing to monitor progress, and highly-curated learning exercises are instrumented. Lessons crafted under the guidance of child psychologists and other professionals trained to work with students that need additional support or alternative learning structures. These concepts not only provide the best foundation for educational success, but for personal growth and development as well.
Momentous School’s implementation of Social-Emotional Learning runs deep and draws upon training usually only readily accessible in graduate schools. Students not only learn techniques to gain greater understanding and control of their behavior but learn about the brain itself. Thereby, teaching students not only how to communicate what they’re feeling but to understand why.
Public schools within the Dallas Independent School District are not as fortunate as to have the comparatively vast funding per student capita of a private laboratory school. However, DISD holds an SEL/Culture and Belonging department that offers students a chance to further develop positive social skills to ensure academic success.
As teachers have integrated mental breaks and breathing exercises, counselors check in with students to identify certain signs that students may need additional support with their mental health. While counselors cannot diagnose a student as having a particular mental illness, they can refer them to mental health services provided by the district.
Mental Health Director of DISD Dr. Tracey Brown explains that counseling is one composite aspect of how mental health is addressed in more serious cases.
“We work with all our students directly to ensure that they’re mentally in good health,” Dr. Brown says. “We train our teachers and staff to recognize symptoms. At that point, we send them to counselors to determine the cause of those issues, whether that’s something at home or things just aren’t connecting in their understanding. We then get a referral from the counselor to receive help from our clinician on-staff and get parental consent to include them when coming up with solutions.”
These solutions can also include psychiatry or child therapy services. If at this point a student is qualified for specialized learning or needs additional attention, a child will be transferred to the appropriate classrooms within their school.
While accessibility to specialized learning for students struggling with behavioral issues arising from poor mental health is available for children attending public school, primary curricula with integration of more dynamic concepts is expectedly centralized to private institutions with more freedom and capital to experiment. As Texas public education does not enact initiatives – let alone allocate funding – for a more full-fledged approach, deeply comprehensive learning experiences for children struggling with depression, anxiety, or behavioral challenges remain more attainable for the middle and upper-class.