Education leaders seek support for student mental health at Capitol

January 22, 2019 10:25 PM

Teachers, social workers and other education leaders throughout the state say the mental health of students needs to be a top priority.

They discussed the issue on Tuesday during a hearing with House Education Committees. 
One speaker said this is a crisis facing all corners of the state. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, one in five teens between the ages of 13 and 18 will live with a mental health condition. 


"The situation has been getting worse and worse each year," said Casey Cavanaugh, a first grade teacher. 

Tuesday afternoon, those close to the issue talked about why more state funding and added staff would help these kids. 

"State policy makers must address this crisis now," said Justin Killian, with Education Minnesota. 


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A national report looked at staffing trends in schools. The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250:1 student to counselor ratio. The latest data shows Minnesota's ratio is 723:1, among the 5th worst in the country .

"Unfortunately Minnesota lags woefully behind in our investments in student support services," said Trina Olson, a school counselor. 

Olson, who works as a school counselor in Milaca, says at one point in 2017 they were turning away nine kids a day who were seeking help.

"School year ended ... I had over 50 students that had wanted to see me that I never connected with," Olson said.  

Social workers, nurses, teachers and counselors agree they are doing more than one job to make up for this deficit.

"We go home every day with the burden of knowing what needs weren't able to be met that day," said Kelly Arrington, a school social worker. 

Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota (NAMI-MN), believes it's important to eliminate barriers for these children because identifying a problem early is crucial. 

"The point of this is not just to diagnose and treat children, it's to build the capacity of the whole school to support kids who are struggling with their mental health," Abderholden said. 

NAMI-MN says more research is being done on the effects social media plays on student's mental health. They say there is a link to depression, and teens who spent more than 3 hours a day on social media have an increased risk of suicide because of built up anxiety. 


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Brett Hoffland

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