I was recently interviewed by Elizabeth Hardison for the article, “Pennsylvania set up a tip line for school threats. Instead, students overwhelmingly called with mental health concerns.” When I was asked if I was surprised by the high level of mental health concerns being reported by students, I said I was not. Our youths are struggling with issues other than Algebra and English.
Sparked by the shooting in Parkland, Florida, and in partnership with the Sandy Hook Promise, PA Legislature developed the Safe2Say site/app. It was launched in 2019 for students to be able to anonymously report threats to schools or students. However, after tabulating the initial data, “Threat Against School” came in at #8 (607 reports) and “Threat Against Person” came in at #10 (523 reports) on the list.
The top four things students reported were:
- #4 Depression/Anxiety (2,121 reports)
- #3 Suicide/Suicide Ideation (2,184 reports)
- #2 Cutting/Self-Harm (2,529 Reports)
- #1 Bullying/Cyberbullying (3,558 reports)
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a ratio of 250 students per school counselor (250:1). Personally, I believe this number is high considering all of the duties school counselors have. I would like to see a lower ratio in order to better serve all students. The average student to school counselor ratio in PA from 2004-2015 was 395:1. The national ratio during that time was 482:1, according to the 10 Year Trends report ASCA released.
I’ve never held the position of a school counselor, but I work with them regularly. I can imagine it’s difficult to try to perform regular duties for 482 students and also manage increasing mental health needs within that group of students.
In 2014, PA signed into law Act 71, which requires school professionals to receive 4 hours of suicide prevention training every 5 years. In theory, a school could have a 4 hour suicide prevention training one year and not provide the training again for another 5 years. I have concerns for staff turnover causing difficulty keeping up with who has training that meets the requirement.
I would like to see suicide prevention training be mandated as a yearly training for school professionals. There were 4,713 combined” Suicide/Suicide Ideation” and “Cutting/Self-Harm” reports in the first half of a school year when Safe2Say was released. Those numbers support my belief that we have hurting kids in every hallway in Pennsylvania and, more broadly, in America. Those kids struggling in Algebra and English may have hidden emotional struggles that need our help.