Over the years we have learned that a hungry child cannot learn as well as a child that has a full belly; so we feed children at school because we want them to learn. We have also learned that there are numerous other barriers to learning that children bring with them when they walk through the classroom door. More and more students are struggling with chaos in the home, domestic violence, poverty, substance abuse and mental illness; these are all barriers to learning.
Mental health issues and school success are closely related. One in five children has a diagnosable mental illness, yet 70 to 80 percent do not receive treatment. The need to improve access to mental health services is critical. Schools are the ideal place to promote, prevent, and offer early intervention and social emotional learning. Mental health is as important as physical health and directly impacts a child’s learning and development. If a child is struggling with depression or is overwhelmed by school pressures, social or family pressures, they are not learning.
Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness but it includes having the skills to cope with life’s challenges. If we create a school environment that meets the needs of the WHOLE child by fostering social-emotional skills, we are creating an environment of learning.
In the Belton School district, Pathways Community Health is the community mental agency for the area. We have partnered together with the school district to break down walls and get services to the students. This is just a first step! We have to continue to embed mental health services into our culture, into our schools, so that seeking mental health treatment becomes as common and as acceptable as seeking treatment for a broken leg.
By opening the classroom doors, we can facilitate partnerships between major systems and achieve the best possible outcomes for children. These partnerships will extinguish the silence and stigma that surrounds mental health, breaking down the barriers for students seeking help. These comprehensive approaches to addressing the needs of the WHOLE child will make our schools safer because good mental health is critical to children’s success in school and in life.
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