Any one who’s had personal experience with mental health issues--either their own or a friend or family member’s--knows that our nation’s approach to mental health is deeply flawed, sometimes with tragic consequences. And it’s difficult to deny that these failures have consequences for public schools. I often lose patience with broad stroke arguments that “poverty” or “parents” create insurmountable obstacles to improving school performance. But it’s impossible to deny that children struggling with mental health issues--either their own or their parents'--have a set of additional needs that neither our health care system nor our schools currently do a good job of meeting, and that the failure to address those issues plays out in a host of ways in our schools and school performance. Initiatives like Turnaround for Children and Say Yes to Education show that we can do a better job of both meeting kids’ mental health needs and equipping classroom educators with the tools to better support children dealing with family and community trauma or challenging family lives. But we need to do much better across our entire health and public education systems. Gionfriddo also notes ways in which public schools and special education policies misdiagnosed his son’s problems and in some ways made them worse. Ultimately, what we want for kids is not just improved academic performance but healthy, happy, and productive adult lives--and that requires identifying, preventing, and addressing mental health challenges.
The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.