According to the American School Counselors Association, there is on average one mental health counselor for every 500 students in the US, when the recommended rate is half of that, and SJHHS is no exception.
There are six academic advisers on campus, but only two full time counselors and a school psychologist available for students.
“We could have more school counselors, the need is there. I would say in the last couple of years…I’ve seen a total increase in the need for school counselors,” said Jenna Jordheim, one of the two full time counselors at SJHHS.
There are two additional part time counselors, one that visits on Tuesday, and one on Wednesday. In addition, there is an intervention specialist, who deals with special education and counselling, that is on campus three days a week.
Even though the academic advisers only outnumber the counselors by one, a lot of them are only part time. In addition, SJHHS does not advertise the help of these advisers to students. Only two counselors are here full time, so there is a large chance that a student will not be able to be helped immediately. That chance can make a big difference in a student’s life and mental state.
While a student’s academic future is important, society’s priorities have been led astray in this area. Often, a student can’t grow properly without being in the right state of mind yet a school counselor can be the key to some students’ successes.
“Academic advisers don’t have the training and sometimes the education that we do, specifically for school counseling,” Jordheim says.
Last April, the Center for Disease Control announced that from 2006 to 2016, suicide rates of kids between the age of 10 and 17 increased by 70%, raising alarm for a developing national crisis.
The more disturbing fact is that this problem is extremely concentrated in California.
A report done by Columbia University states that California ranks near the bottom of all states in terms of the percentage of kids with access to mental health and health care at school.
This exact problem can be a significant contributor to the growing number of teenage suicides. Academic advisers are offered left and right to help a student’s academic career. However, the help of mental health counselors, which is arguably more important, is advertised much less.
SJHHS does advertise the help of the mental counselors, but makes annual appointments with academic advisers mandatory. By doing this, the school effectively prioritizes academics before the mental health of the students. In addition, not advertising the help of the few mental counselors decreases the awareness of the student body. Also, by not acknowledging the fact that mental health problems can be developed at an early age, stigma around that issue cannot be decreased.
“I like the idea of promoting [mental health counselors], I think there has been times where there has been confusion between the academic advisers and what the school counselors do,” said full time counselor, Lorena Salter.
Teachers and academic counselors are available for students to talk to, but the right advice is usually not provided in these encounters. According to School Psychology Quarterly, only 34% of teachers feel trained well enough to spot a mental disorder and it is a known fact that an academic adviser’s advice is more academic in nature, making the presence of a mental health counselor crucial.
An average high school student will spend more time with various teachers than their parents, and it is absolutely absurd that students are not able to seek help in the place they spend most of their time. A school’s job should not just be to prepare their students for their future academically, but socially as well.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the U.S. Department of Education, 75% of principals said that the reason for the shortage in mental health counselors is due to inadequate funding.
Often times, when a district goes through budget cuts, counselors are some of the first cutbacks, further decreasing the importance of a student’s mental health in school.
At SJHHS, students who were in need of appointments were not being seen by the counselors, therefore the school implemented a new system for assessing the need of the student wanting to be seen. Students who come to the office are given a form which they fill out based on their current state of being. The surveys are then given to the counselors, and based on how dire the student’s need is, they will be seen in that order. While this is effective in assuring that as many students are being counseled as possible, it still comes up short because there are not enough counselors.
An interim solution could be offering more academic counselors with the proper training to deal with both a student’s mental health troubles as well as their academic ones. That way, no student would have to be turned down due to the fact that there would be more counselors available.
Regardless, early mental health intervention could be life altering, and if a school can provide that opportunity, that outweighs the importance of a yearly academic consultation.