Times are changing and the pressure society has placed upon the youth has only grown. Many of our classmates feel like the weight of the world has been placed on our shoulders. While we’re seeing an increase in suicide in teens, the topic of mental health remains taboo. It’s time to bring light to this topic — and work together to find solutions.
It feels as though we're facing a multitude of factors that lead to mental health deterioration. Academic burnout, combined with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression can not only lead to poorer mental health, but can have adverse effects on our education. We believe schools must adapt and provide students like us the help needed to suceed not only in school, but beyond. It’s clear that schools can play a big role in keeping students safe and healthy, but unfortunately many schools in Arizona lack a school-based mental health professional that can help us work through our struggles.
Arizona has the worst student-to-counselor ratio in the nation: 753-to-1. Arizona students have some of the highest teen suicide and dropout rates. When we are sick, stressed, or traumatized, we should be able to go to our school counselor, nurse, social worker or psychologist. Unfortunately, many students don’t have that option. School counselors are not only there to guide us on our path to secondary education, they are also there to help with emotional struggles and support students and teachers alike.
We can change this shortage of student support services.
The Arizona Department of Education has allocated new grant money so schools can apply for funding to pay for counselors, social workers or school resource officers (SROs). We want to see schools use this funding to hire more counselors and behavioral health professionals as the first step to help combat the lack of behavioral health staff in schools and help students like us deal with whatever we may be going through.
We are looking for people who make us feel safe, we want a protected environment where we can seek help. The truth is that we don’t feel safe with SRO’s. We feel criminalized and undignified by having an SRO on our campus. There is no conclusive evidence that proves having SRO’s on-campus makes it safer, but the benefits of investing in mental health services are clear: school-based behavioral health professionals can improve school climate and reduce violence. Many believe that safety in schools means having an SRO on campus. We don't believe that. Many of our Black and brown classmates are criminalized and are more prone to face repercussions by those said to ‘protect’ us, like being referred to police, not a counselor, for adolescent behavior.
The application window for new funding is September 16th through the 27th. We, as a community, must not fail to acknowledge the repurcussions that can surge from ignoring our most vulnerable students. We've faced these tribulations like anxiety and depression first-hand and we want to see our schools deviate from having cops on campus who criminalize, intimidate, and dehumanize students to a path that treats its students with dignity and undersstands the importance of counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists. Counselors are a necessity within our schools, but for many students, they have become a luxury.
We want to see as many schools as possible request funding for counselors, not SROs. Read the letter the ACLU of Arizona sent to several school districts and superintendents. You can also urge your school to invest in counselors, not cops.