Mental Health should NOT be a Privilege

Prioritizing students mental health will help them to reach their full potential

By Sarah Lewisohn


Mental health- broad subject, big word. I think we can all agree that it is a topic that is being brought up more in recent times. However, what changes are being made to elevate the mental health needs of students in schools?


From personal experience, I have had struggles with my own mental health, but I have been able to get the support I need outside of school. However, many of my peers don't have this same privilege. And, personally, I think we all could use it. More qualified mental health professionals and support staff in schools is necessary for students to reach their full potential. I come from a school that has a diverse student body, with students from all backgrounds. Not only do schools need to realize the importance of prioritizing the social and emotional welfare of all students, they need to understand the variety of backgrounds students come from, and the oppression so many of them face.


I was able to speak with several personnel from my high school, located in Charlotte, North Carolina: A teacher, our school social worker, and our school based psychologist. All three gave beneficial insight into their own experiences as to what they see everyday at our school in regards to the mental health challenges of students.


Our public schools are understaffed, and faced with a lack of mental health resources. The teacher I spoke with, in discussing how there is a lack of resources for the diverse student body at our school, says “our school systems do not have enough support - via funding/expert staff - to guide our marginalized students to their potential success.”  


So, what does an educator suggest? “More funding for qualified teachers and staff, smaller class sizes, and more balance in a focus on each child's potential.”


There was a feeling of overwhelmedness with each person I spoke with. There are so many students in each of their hands. Our social worker, who is in her third year at our school, says, “if you took a little bit of that budget, and hired more social workers, we could do our job appropriately and properly in serving more kids instead of one person trying to do the whole thing. It's only one of me for three thousand something kids.” 


Staff at our schools have too much in their hands, and need support themselves to be able to effectively support their students


Funding practices, in North Carolina specifically, but even on a national level, don’t meet both the needs and hopes of all students. This goes specifically for those in marginalized communities. In hearing the mental health issues that marginalized students face, our school-based psychologist states that, “It's a lot of anxiety. There's a lot of lack of motivation, and it's not lack of motivation because a student doesn't want to try, it's just, it almost feels hopeless sometimes. That hopelessness builds up and then that lack of motivation kind of takes over. So, that's the most common thing I tend to see. Almost like apathy.” 


Apathy. Our schools need more funding to hire more staff to encourage students to reach their full potential. We don’t need any more apathy or indifference from students.


The teacher I spoke with feels that, “Those in charge of the budget for NC public schools are withholding billions of dollars in funding for our schools.” She says, “I believe the legislators in charge of our funding do not truly understand the day to day needs in our schools. They are making decisions from afar and cannot possibly understand because they are not the ones in our classrooms. If they visited schools on a regular basis, and spoke with teachers, staff, and students, maybe they would have a greater urgency to support our schools.” 


Those in charge of the funding cannot be expected to make these decisions, affecting thousands of students, without seeing first hand what truly goes on in a school setting.


Funding from the budget needs to go into providing more resources for schools. Our social worker says, “The teachers are seeing these kids struggling in class, academically, but also socially and emotionally. And we're not able to care for all of them. It's just so many of them, where we're not able to give them what they need. And again, it goes back to not being able to afford the proper type of mental health services so that they can get the outside services if we can't get to them.” This once again goes into the understaffing seen in schools. 


The National Association of School Psychologists, recommends that there be one school psychologist for every five hundred to seven hundred students. But this isn’t reflected in America’s schools. My high school, for example, has one full time and one part time psychologist, supporting over three thousand students. Some schools don’t have psychologists at all. 


Many students do not have or do not qualify for insurance, which is a huge gateway into gaining access to an abundance of resources, including those regarding mental health. Our social worker says, “I think that we need more free mental health counseling for students in school. And not just in schools, but everywhere, regardless of insurance.” She says, “if we know that a child is in need of those services, we shouldn't have to say, what's your insurance? Do you have insurance? Let me see if you qualify.” Students who aren’t able to get the support they need outside of school should have access to mental health resources in school. Support in one’s mental health should not be a privilege, but should be accessible to everyone.


One last thing that consistently came up in my conversations was the implementation of more training around crisis prevention. Our school psychologist says, “I would like us as educators to be able to do less crisis intervention, and more prevention.”


Students without adequate mental health resources have to find other outlets, which is why we see fights, students talking out at staff, and other misbehaviors on our campuses. These students go on to be labeled as “troubled” or “difficult,” further on limiting their potential for success in their academic careers. If school staff were to get ample training in crisis prevention and more resources for students, many of these misconceptions could be avoided.


My general consensus is that public schools are experiencing a lack of resources in the department of mental health, and we are not seeing adequate funding practices to deal with this said lack of resources. Schools are understaffed, overwhelmed, and not given all of the right tools and training to support their whole student body. We need more qualified support staff in schools, and more training for those staff members to truly understand the background of each student. More equitable funding practices in public schools would allow students to have a better chance to reach their full potential, regardless of what community they are from. To learn more about Our Turn’s demands for a more equitable school system, refer to Our Turn’s Student Agenda for Equity.