In today’s ever-changing world, the mental health of children and adolescents has become a subject of paramount importance. Mental health is an essential component of overall wellness. In childhood, it involves achieving key developmental and emotional benchmarks, acquiring social skills, and developing effective coping mechanisms and resilience in the face of challenges. The mental well-being of children is bolstered by nurturing relationships and environments but can be jeopardized by adverse experiences. If the environmental conditions where children learn and play, known as social determinants of health, are disadvantageous, they can contribute to stress and negatively impact their mental health.
Mental health issues can begin in early childhood, impacting children from various social and demographic backgrounds. Unfortunately, certain groups experience a higher prevalence due to factors like poverty, geographic area and access to education, leading to disparities in health outcomes. Schools, often serving as a second home to millions of young minds, play a crucial role in promoting not only academic but also emotional and psychological well-being. Counselors in schools are no longer a luxury but a necessity.
School counselors act as a frontline defense against the growing mental health crisis among young people. Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health highlights concerning trends about the mental health of U.S. high school students. In 2021, more than four in 10 (42%) students reported feeling persistently hopeless or sad. More than one in five (22%) of students seriously considered attempting suicide, while one in 10 (10%) attempted suicide. These alarming findings underscore the need for effective mental health education and early intervention strategies in schools.
Recognizing the signs of mental health issues in children and adolescents is critical; common signs include persistent sadness, withdrawal from social interactions, extreme changes in eating or sleeping patterns and unexplained decline in academic performance. School counselors are instrumental in identifying these signs and providing timely support and intervention. Schools have the unique opportunity to create a safe and supportive environment where students can learn about mental health in a way that is relatable and destigmatizing.
During National School Counselor Week, Feb. 5-9, 2024, we honor school counselors, who are educators, advocates and experts in child and adolescent mental health.
School counselors have a multifaceted role that includes ensuring access and equity for all students. They provide counseling that aids in academic, career and social/emotional development. School counselors also play a role in developing and implementing school-wide mental health programs and policies. Moreover, they are often pivotal in educating teachers and staff about mental health. This education supports teachers in recognizing potential mental health issues in students and responding appropriately. Through a collaborative environment, school counselors, teachers and staff can work together to support the well-being of students. Apart from in-school resources, counselors connect students and their families with external mental health services. This holistic approach ensures that students receive comprehensive support that extends beyond the school environment.
Prioritizing mental health in schools is a step toward cultivating well-rounded and resilient individuals. As a community, it’s imperative to support school counselors. Every child and adolescent deserves access to academic, social and emotional support when they need it.
About the professor.
Carly Boren, Ph.D., NCC, is an assistant professor of counselor education in the College of Education & Human Development. Her research and clinical interests include transgender mental health and nature-based counseling practices. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and is actively involved in the American Counseling Association (ACA) and Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ).