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RECAP — The role of mental health in powering students' potential

Students across the country suffer from mental health related issues. Studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicate that almost half of middle school students in the United States have experienced bullying at school or in their communities and that almost one-fourth of middle school aged children have considered suicide.

In response to these pervasive problems, the Duval County Public School District and local community organizations have enacted programs to help establish support services for students who suffer from mental health-related issues. But these efforts can be both broadened and improved upon.

On June 30, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund hosted an event to address “The role of mental health in powering students’ potential.” More than 70 participants had the opportunity to hear from three local leaders in youth mental health reform who participated in a panel discussion about mental health support services in Duval County. After the panel, participants had the opportunity to brainstorm ideas about how to reduce the social stigma around mental health and how to take specific action to support our children experiencing these issues.

Michael McAuley, Executive Director for Student Discipline and Support Services for Duval County Public Schools, talked about building sustainable change in mental health support. McAuley spoke about a grant DCPS recently won to provide motivational coaches for middle schools in Duval County, and shared Dr. Vitti’s vision to have all Duval County teachers formally trained in Youth Mental Health and First Aid.

Keto Porter, Director of Full Service Schools (a program within the United Way of Northeast Florida), addressed the fact that parents face many obstacles that prevent their children from receiving needed mental health services: from not having a car to drive students to appointments to not having the knowledge to advocate or enroll children in mental health support services. By providing comprehensive mental and medical health services on school campuses, Full Service Schools aims to serve even more of Jacksonville’s children suffering from mental health related issues.

Cindy Watson, the Executive Director of the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Network (JASMYN), spoke of the staggering incidence of mental health issues LGBTQ students experience. Students in the LGBTQ community witness bullying, depression and suicidal thoughts at rates of two to five times the amount of students in general. Watson discussed the strides JASMYN has made to provide safe spaces for students from the LGBTQ community to discuss mental health issues and to develop Gay-Straight Alliance programs on schools campuses around the county.

The table discussions provided an opportunity for community members to voice their ideas and concerns about mental health in Duval County. Some insightful and innovative responses are below...

Question 1: How can we reduce the stigma around mental health issues?

  • Take accountability for personal biases and misconceptions.

  • Eliminate the mindset that there is so much pressure for teachers to finish their pacing guides that they do not have time to address mental health issues in the classroom.

  • Increase student knowledge of mental health issues by embedding mental health into school curricula.

Question 2: How can the community better support children experiencing mental health issues?

  • Build a common vocabulary around mental health issues.

  • Provide mental health support to all communities, not just communities who can afford mental health services.

  • Establish programs where role models and mentorship can support students with mental health issues.

Question 3: What are you planning to do to connect other community members to this issue?

  • Use churches and faith-based communities to mobilize support around mental health. Develop a collaboration between mental health professionals and clergy so that the community can get on board with mental health activism through someone they trust, like members of the clergy.

  • Use the arts to share personal stories, to enable students to develop empathy for students who suffer from mental health issues.

Based on post-event surveys, 86% of participants increased their knowledge about current mental health issues impacting students and how they are being addressed; 100% of them expressed their willingness to take action to help children who might be experiencing mental health issues and also were planning to share the information discussed with other community members who did not attend the event.

Overall, the event inspired community members to become more informed and active in providing students with quality mental health support.

For more information, please click here to download the Mental Health Resource one pager. If you have mental health resources that should be added, please email Maira Martelo, Community Mobilization Director at maira@jaxpef.org.

To take a look at pictures from the event, click here. 

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Bryan Susman, Teach For America Summer Fellow