As a high school counselor during this past decade, I’ve had a front row seat to a frightening trend as the number of students who sought counseling for anxiety and depression skyrocketed. And when a tragedy happened, the first look for reasons was invariably at the schools: What happened? What are you doing about it?
Well, what happened was another young person was overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, and hopelessness to the point death was preferable to life. And what are we doing about it? Sadly, as a nation, not much, even though we say we are.
The 2021 National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Report on Youth Risk Behavior revealed 42 percent of high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. In 2011, 28 percent experienced those feelings. The CDC also reported that in 2010 there were 4,600 reported deaths from suicide by individuals aged 15-24. The 2020 report identified 6,062 deaths from suicide in the same age group.
Even with these startling numbers, no suicide awareness or prevention efforts of consequence have been introduced in years. Students still learn about mental illness in health classes, one speaker may show up during a one-and-done September suicide awareness assembly, and a hard-working well-intentioned group may hand out 1-800 number refrigerator magnets or wrist bands. These efforts make a difference with kids. But obviously not enough – we need to be better; we need to do something that is not being done.
Millions of federal dollars have been earmarked to fund mental health programs in schools, and I can’t say none of the money is landing where it is supposed to. But none – not one – dollar, program, or support has made it to ground zero school counselors, social workers or teachers in almost all of the schools I know of. I worked at the same high school I graduated from fifty years ago. We had four school counselors back then. Today? There are three counselors. We are definitely going in a direction … but the wrong one.