Statistics suggest that young people today suffer from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression like never before, and there is no reason to believe it will be abating anytime soon. A study headed by Jean Twenge from San Diego State University tells us that five times as many high school and college students are dealing with mental health challenges today than during the Great Depression.
In response to this alarming trend, policy makers have responded as they always do, which is to say that our schools need to do more to solve the problem. The Ohio Department of Education website states, “The state biennial budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 includes a significant investment to support student wellness and success in schools, enabling schools to provide additional mental health services, wrap-around services, mentoring, after schoolprograms and more.”
In other words, nary a mention of the parents’ role in the mental health of their children. Once again, policy makers absolve parents of any responsibility for raising their children, while demanding that schools solve a problem they did not create.
To be fair to our politicians, many educators are also clamoring for more access to mental health services for their students. They do so not from a desire to take on still more parental responsibilities, but because they are not equipped to address the intensity of behavior problems that exists with an increasing number of kids today. For God’s sake, they are supposed to be teachers, not psychiatrists.
Even more sobering is that this epidemic of mental health problems exists before the children impacted by the relatively recent opioid epidemic among parents ever set foot inside our schools. In other words, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
This is not a school issue despite the fact that lawmakers identify it as such, as they do with all problems involving children. It is a societal problem that, for some reason, has exploded in recent decades. As such, it would seem that instead of simply throwing money at programs that may or may not work and overloading schools that are already expected to do more than they are capable of doing, someone in power may pose the question of why more kids than ever before are saddled with mental health problems. “What are we as a society doing to create this mess?” seems to be an appropriate question.
But, this rather obvious question apparently hasn’t occurred to a single lawmaker. They simply jump to their typical response which is to blindly throw money at a problem with the attitude of, “Let’s make the schools do it.”
There are plenty of questions that need answered. For example, why are female teens twice as likely as males to be depressed? Or, how does abuse, neglect, and other traumas like divorce, living with an alcoholic or drug-addicted family member, or the death of a parent impact a child’s psyche?
In her book, “Beyond Blue,” mental health writer and advocate Theresa Bouchard suggests that the problem can even be traced to issues like lack of community and family support, less exercise, less free play, and our infatuation with technology.
The blog, “Turnaround: Turning Fear into Freedom,” which focuses on childhood mental health issues, suggests, “The rise in anxiety and other mental health issues must relate to the way young people view the world instead of the world as it actually is.” Their website even provides access to an at-home program for parents to employ to help their children address anxiety.
Notice the phrases “at-home program” and “for parents.” What a novel thought!
Could our children feel hopeless and helpless because they are constantly being told the world will end in a few years due to global warming, and it’s our fault? Could it be the almost weekly mass killings of innocent people that occurs in this country with the accompanying non-stop media coverage? Could it be how cavalierly our children are prescribed psychotropic drugs? Could it be the constant barrage of negativity, name calling, and personal attacks our so-called leaders spew every single day? Could it be the disintegration of the traditional family? Could it be their infatuation with social media? Could it be the 100 negative to one positive story with which they are bombarded about the world they live in?
Yes, based on research, it could be all of those things and more.
So, instead of regurgitating alarming statistics and pretending as if demanding that schools implement a few programs that may or may not work, how about if lawmakers spend a little time studying why our kids are so miserable and let the answers they find drive public discourse?
Better yet, why don’t we as responsible adults stop expecting our politicians to do something meaningful and find out for ourselves what we are doing to contribute to this mess?
After all, the well-being of our children is our responsibility, not theirs.
Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.