Issue #3; March 1, 2005
A Tough Assignment for Schools
The fact that so many students today are affected by substance abuse and mental health - behavioral health - issues presents a major challenge, not only for our best and brightest, but for all of us. We must actively address behavioral health problems at school, at home and in our communities or pay a very high price. Behavioral health must be part of any education agenda.
From elementary school to college campuses, substance abuse and mental health problems are negatively affecting the quality of education in our nation's schools. For example, students who drink, and use and sell drugs create an atmosphere that is unsafe for themselves, other students and school staff.
They are at risk of dropping out, and may lack motivation and self-discipline.
Alcohol is the number one drug problem among young people and is associated with all the leading causes of death among teenagers.
When students consume large amounts of alcohol, they increase risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV exposure and date rape.
Many children and young adults arrive to the classroom with a wide range of problems including poverty, homelessness, difficult family conditions, high rates of mobility, violent neighborhoods, and problems related to substance abuse and mental health. These problems impede a child’s ability to thrive or even to participate in a school environment. National data indicate that almost one third of public high school students fail to graduate. Behavioral health conditions contribute to this adverse outcome.
Hope for Our Future
Margaret Meade once said, “The solution of adult problems tomorrow depends upon the way we raise our children today. There is no greater insight into the future than recognizing when we save our children, we save ourselves.”
Schools offer opportunities to reach all children and serve as important settings for specific groups at risk, such as children with behavior problems and learning disabilities and those who are potential dropouts. The school environment and individual academic performance affect a young person’s inclination to engage in risky behaviors. Schools provide students with the solid academic foundation, but that job is not complete until all students are equipped with the skills they need for survival.
While numerous challenges face us when we choose to make behavioral health part of the education agenda, we can start with simple steps. One at a time, teachers and parents can help move our children from risk to resilience. Specific programs and best practices can be put in place to help students develop additional protective factors and minimize risk factors.
Part of every agenda must be to focus on our educational institutions to find missed opportunities for policy and program development in prevention, intervention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. Together we must think of how we can meet the challenges of addressing persistent barriers to students’ learning and healthy development.
Comments are welcome at Karen.Ohrenberger@po.state.ct.us
Start with simple steps. One child at a time, one less missed opportunity at a time.