I want to commend Rappahannock News and School Superintendent Shannon Grimsley for informing the community of the mental health crisis among our youth. The 17 percent of high school students when surveyed admit to having thought of suicide.
Serious mental health problems, such as self-injurious behaviors and suicide, are on the rise, particularly among youth. Unfortunately, national estimates are that 60 percent of students do not receive the treatment they need due to stigma and lack of access to services. Of those who do get help, nearly two thirds do so only in school. Building a mentally healthy community for our children starts in our schools.
Across the county 13 percent of all children have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Mental illness is like any other disease; the earlier it is identified and treated the better the health outcomes. Untreated mental health conditions in children can disrupt development and affect school readiness and overall well-being, and these conditions can worsen later in life.
Rappahannock County has virtually no masters level mental health clinicians who specialize in children’s mental health and will bill Medicaid. While some services are available in Culpeper and Warrenton, studies show that there is an inverse relationship between the need to travel for mental health services, and the likelihood that a child actually secures and completes treatment.
Research has shown that students are more likely to seek counseling when services are available in schools. In rural areas, schools provide the only mental health services to children. Sadly many schools lack clinical services for the general, non-special ed population. That means they miss many of the children with mental health needs.
Schools around the county are working to build systems of prevention, early intervention and treatment. And while there is no silver bullet, there are proven approaches that schools and communities can take. With help from the Mental Health Association of Fauquier County that county is embarked in a systematic effort to do just that.
Rappahannock can start a similar process.
An important step would be obtaining a full time master’s level school social worker or psychologist devoted to providing care to children without a special ed label. Virginia’s Medicaid expansion makes this possible.
The writer lives in Sperryville