With Rise in Student Mental Health Issues, Mass. Group to Offer Solutions

The group was formed in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

A Massachusetts school safety commission will soon release a report aimed at improving services for traumatized students or those with mental health issues.

The recommendations are coming as teen depression rates in the state are rising. The Massachusetts 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly 15 percent of students are considering suicide and 11.9 percent actually made a plan to kill themselves during that year.

Some details of the mental health report, conducted by the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission, have already been released, including calls to improve students’ access to behavioral health services and additional resources for improved teacher training, according to the Boston Herald.

“No other state in the country is doing this,” Susan Cole, director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative program, told the Herald. “It puts us on the cutting edge.”

The 19-member commission was formed as part of the state’s 2014 Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence that was a response to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The panel is made up of education and mental health leaders in the state.

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The report that is set to be released in the coming weeks will aim to help schools assist students suffering from panic attacks, neighborhood violence, traumatizing events, eating disorders and self-harm. Support programs are expected to be established by the beginning of next school year.

The most recent data available in the state shows a 38 percent increase in the number of students who took their own lives in 2013 compared to 2003. According to a recent Boston Children’s Hospital study, one in five teens in the city have had at least one traumatic experience related to neighborhood violence, sexual abuse, crime, poverty or domestic violence. Approximately 12 percent of students seek counseling help in Boston.

“It is a huge issue all schools are wrestling with,” Dr. Melissa Pearrow, director of school psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said. “It is a significant problem. Schools are on the front line to identify kids who need additional support.”

Nationwide, the Herald reports that 17 percent of teenagers attempt suicide. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one psychologist in schools for every 500 to 700 students.

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