A School Mental Health Issues Survey from the Perspective of Regular and Special Education Teachers, School Counselors, and School Psychologists

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to determine the perceptions of regular and special education teachers, school counselors, and school psychologists on presenting problems of students, available community mental health services, family-based and community-based barriers to services, and the provision of mental health services in schools. A random national sample of participants completed a School Mental Health Issues Survey. The final sample included 413 respondents from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The background of the study, survey development, administration and analysis, descriptive statistics and analyses of variance are provided. Significant differences based on position, school level, and school geography, as well as implications for mental health services in schools and future research are also discussed.

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Childhood and adolescent mental health issues cause pain and emotional distress, and may compromise a student's chances for fully using his or her learning opportunities and for ultimately succeeding in school and later life. These issues may be evident through overt behaviors such as aggression and disruption, but also may also be more subtle, causing internal turmoil through feelings such as anxiety and depression. By default, our nation's schools may be viewed as community mental health centers where up to 10% of the children in the general education population may have a psychiatric disorder (Rosenblatt & Rosenblatt, 1999). Between only 1 and 5% of these students are being served across the nation, and less than one-half of those with emotional or behavioral disorders are being identified and served in special education (Forness, Kavale, & Lopez, 1993). A recent Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health states that one in five children and adolescents experiences the signs and symptoms of a DSM-IV disorder during the course of a year, with about 5% of all children experiencing "extreme functional impairment" (Policy Leadership Cadre for Mental Health in Schools, 2001). Statistics from the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) suggest that 12 to 15% of adolescents present emotional and behavioral problems at levels warranting intervention, while another 15% are believed to be at-risk (Flaherty et al., 1996; Rosenblatt & Rosenblatt, 1999; Werthamer-Larsson, 1994). The situation is even more dismal when one expands the focus beyond the limited landscape of diagnosable mental disorders to the number of young people experiencing psychosocial problems and who are at risk of not maturing into responsible adults (Dryfoos, 1990). Adelman and Taylor (2001) contend that up to 40% of young people are in very bad educational shape and at risk of failing to fulfill their promise. Taken together, these figures are of alarming concern, reinforcing the perception that this segment of our school population is either not being identified, not being served, or being served inadequately by not only our schools, but also by child welfare, juvenile justice, and/or mental healthcare systems.

The Carnegie Council Taskforce on the Education of Young Adolescents (1995) suggests that school systems are not responsible for meeting every need of their students. But when the need directly affects learning, the school must meet the challenge. Subsequently, leaving no child behind implies more than stronger accountability for results. The mission of schools should comprise not only a focus on academics and confronting obstacles to academic learning, but also a major role in promoting development related to social and emotional functioning. Outcomes should logically include safe, healthy, and resilient behavior. Strengthening firsthand mental health resources and services for school-age children and youth may provide preventive activities designed to reduce prevalence, as well as early intervention for problems (Cowen, Hightower, Pedro-Carroll, Work, Wyman, & Haffey, 1996; Reynolds & Gutkin, 1998; The Maternal and Child Health Bureau, 1998). …

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