A True Reality Check of Mental Health Care in NYC Schools

BY OLGA LURYE

"Olga, you're crazy,used be a phrase I heard everyday in elementary and middle school.

I was known as the crazy girl who camped out at the guidance counselor's office. The guidance counselors were like my school family; they knew me better than anyone else. I would get brownies on my birthday from my favorite guidance counselor Ms. Collett. I loved and cherished my relationship with Ms.Collett dearly. She was my only mental health resource in school, my support system. Her job was hard: dealing with uncontrollable kids for 8 hours each day in a small crowded office is mentally and physically challenging. However, she managed to come to my middle school everyday with a big smile on her face. Unfortunately, halfway into my 8th grade year, my middle school fired Ms.Collett because they could not afford more than one guidance counselor. The school was completely unaware that, without Ms.Collett, many students had no where to go.

Did you know that 1 in 5 teenagers in New York City alone experience anxiety, depression, ADD or ADHD? Yet, only 21% of diagnosed children get treatment. This is partially due to the fact that out of the $78 billion budget created by Mayor De Blasio, only $400 million is going to mental health care. A mere 0.5% of his budget is going towards mental health care. That could explain the hundreds of mental health professionals like Ms Collett losing their job since 2008. The average public school does not have the financial capabilities to have a mental health clinic in their school. The operation of the clinics leave a huge financial burden. This results into schools having very scarce mental health care.

The lack of quality mental health care in New York City is horrifying. A possible solution for the absence of funds for mental health care is the passage of the Mental Health in Schools Act, which was introduced by Congress on March 3, 2015. The objective of the bill is to strengthen community and mental health partnerships. It also requires an adequate school mental health program where professionals are trained to counsel children affected by trauma and violence. The bill also calls for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to develop a process for evaluating the effectiveness of school mental health programs.

Possible critics of the bill might argue that it’s wasting taxpayer money on a problem that families should deal with individually. Unfortunately, many parents struggle with how to deal with and parent a child with mental health issues. They are not trained. Furthermore, increasing budgets for mentally ill children could potentially prevent them from going the wrong paths in life such as jail. In New York alone, we spend over $50,000 per inmate. That downpour of taxpayer money could be dramatically decreased with the Mental Health in Schools Act. The key is early intervention.

 


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