By Mike Piersak
Special Education Director
In the wake of the horror that was the Sandy Hook tragedy, much has been written and discussed about guns, violence and mental health.
If there is good news in the wake of this tragedy, it may be that local , state and federal policy makers may be rethinking the funding and service levels particularly in the mental health service area that have been drastically cut over the past many years. As these discussions continue, let’s hope that we do not fall into the discussion which centers on guns + mental illness =violence.
Rather we should encourage discussions which center on the courageous parents who each day seek assistance for their child who has is dealing with anxiety, an eating disorder, peer pressure, depression, a recent death, divorce, sexuality issues, drug or alcohol use, bullying .
Discussions need to take place that unmask mental health from being equated with violence and evil, to being a situation in life, that no one welcomes, but once it arrives, needs to be addressed not with shame but with professional and comprehensive urgency.
The courageous parent is one who is not ashamed or embarrassed to speak about their child’s “mental health” challenges, yet too often finds too few people to speak to; too few people who can appreciate the extent, severity and far-reaching consequences of mental health challenges, and too few options beyond their own unconditional love and support.
Over the past several weeks the Watertown-Mayer School district has sought to strengthen our focus on addressing and recognizing the mental health needs of our students. Working in collaboration with Carver County, through Carver County Community Social Services, Liz Laure a licensed mental health professional is now working in our district two days per week. Each week Liz guides the school districts Mental Health Intervention Team, which includes our school social workers, psychologist, behavior specialist and high school counselor. These weekly meetings review the status of students currently receiving mental health supports, new referrals, including recent requests by parents, guardians, teachers, and students.
The Watertown-Mayer School District Superintendent, Mr. Dave Marlette has recently met with Mr. Gary Bork (Director of Carver County Community Social Services) to explore the development of school-based and school linked services that would be designed to address student’s mental health needs using a variety of service options ranging from prevention to intensive intervention. This request recognizes that a key to making mental health services effective, is to ensure that the services be based in the community, are comprehensive, coordinated and easily accessible to students and families.
The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) reports that one-half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by age 14, three -quarters by age 24; moreover less than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year. Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States and the third –leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years. Again referencing NAMI, more than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Finally, over 50 percent of students with identified mental disorders by age 14 and older, drop out of high school-the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
On Feb. 1, state Senator Kathy Sheran introduced a bill that would give Minnesota schools an extra $10 million over the next two years to bring in mental health specialists. The bill would also provide more training to mental health professionals handling psychotic episodes and resources for earlier treatment of teens experiencing a crisis.
If you believe that schools are the logical point of entry to increase the efficacy of mental health services to children and adolescents, and that schools are the optimal place to develop psychological competence and to teach children and youth about making informed and appropriate choices concerning their health, please contact your state senator and representative.
If you believe that schools can serve as centralized locations for integrated and coordinated mental health services, to foster the mental health of our students, please consider contacting your state senator and representative.
Finally, share with your representatives, the courageous parents you know, who could benefit from more localized and available mental health services.
Liz Lauren Carver County Mental Health Professional- 952-240-8841
Lisa Armstrong Watertown Mayer School Social Worker / Serves on the school district’s Mental Health Intervention Team- 952-955-0329 firstname.lastname@example.org
State Senator: Julianne Ortman -651-296-4837 email@example.com
State Representative: Ernie Leidiger -651-296-4282 firstname.lastname@example.org
First Street Center / Mental Health Waconia, Mn. 952-442-4437 24 hour Crisis Services 952-442-7601.