Getting Mental Health Care

Luke Nearhood, Staff Reporter

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To say that education in Oregon is underfunded would be an understatement, and to say that mental health education and support in our public schools  is underfunded would be an injustice. For the degree to which counselors are overloaded, and students underprepared is astounding. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a ratio of 250 students per counselor, and yet our counselors are taking on almost twice that number.

“Counselors want to do more counseling.” said Roberto Aguilar, a counselor at Milwaukie.

For as much as counselors would like to be able to spend more time with each student they simply don’t have the time or resources. Though the role of counselors is primarily an academic one, they are often the first line of defense in cases such as suicide prevention. As such, it is important that counselors not be spread so thin as to only be able to see some of their less urgent cases infrequently.

“We don’t have enough counselors in the building to see the kids in need.” said Jennifer Krumm, a counselor at Milwaukie.

Even though our awareness and acceptance of mental illness has generally increased, the outreach and help for those in need from our public institutions hasn’t been able to be keep up. Good intentions and some programs are there, such as Sources of Strength, a program for which Milwaukie was one of two high schools chosen to pilot. However, the resources are not there to properly and fully implement such programs. Due to the lack of immediate results, one must worry that such resources will never arrive. However, such programs are important laying the groundwork for a more mental health conscious school environment in the future.

“We can’t ignore the issues that are impacting the students today.” said Melissa Schatz, the therapist at the health center.

Milwaukie is lucky enough to have a independently funded and operated health center on campus which also provides mental health services. The center recently received an expansion grant to provide mental health services to the under and uninsured. This development is a good sign, but whether or not such financial support will continue remains to be seen. Whether or not it’s a good thing that most of the districts mental health support comes from outside sources is up for debate. As it isn’t unreasonable to ask community institutions such as Outside-In and Trillium Family Services to provide support for that community. With the former providing the bulk of the health center’s funding, and the latter providing counseling support independent of the health center.

“Without the collaboration of community organizations… we wouldn’t be able to meet the demand… I don’t think the school district can do everything.” said Therapist Melissa Schatz.

While this is certainly true, one must wonder where the school district, and by proxy the State of Oregon is putting its priorities to require so much outside help with mental health. Obviously learning is the first and foremost priority of any education system, but as many a counselor and/or teacher will tell you there’s more to school than the acquisition of knowledge.

“…focusing on the whole child.” as Melissa Schatz put it.

For, it is through school we first learn to socialize, and deal with the emotions of ourselves and others. Taking a more holistic approach to education could not only benefit those in need of emotional support, but also the general emotional and mental well being of all students, creating a more effective education environment. However, we once again are forced to realize that the funding needed for a such an approach isn’t there.

“Put the funding where it matters.” said Jennifer Krumm.

While the district and the state can talk a good talk about how much they support those in need of mental health support, words are cheap, and it is through budget allocation and where resources are distributed that we see what is valued. Though change starts at the bottom, with each and everyone of us.

“We can make changes here.” said Melissa Schatz.

If the trend of becoming more accepting of the mentally and emotionally in need continues perhaps we will see that change. Perhaps that change will involving putting more funding in these departments where it can do a lot of good, or perhaps that change will be mere lip service, only time will tell.