There’s no question that teenagers, with their emotional and mental lives in flux; and especially teenagers in today’s world, complete with global pandemics, mass shootings, and social media; are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. They also have more self-awareness of these issues and resources to help than in the past. So it’s no surprise that teenagers are becoming some of the strongest advocates for their own mental health. I LOVE the fact that these teens in rural Killingly, Connecticut, are drawing awareness to the crisis of mental health and fighting for a mental health clinic in their school, a resource that is becoming increasingly common.
The pushback from parents is that mental health treatment doesn’t belong in schools. Therapists, parents fear, may engage in dialogue with their kids about controversial topics like abortion or birth control, which they feel should lie strictly within the domain of the family. Parents also fear the influence of the therapist’s advice on their kids’ impressionistic minds, and the fact that their kids can see the therapist for up to six sessions without parental approval.
Like many arguments, I can actually see this one from both angles. It does seem a little invasive to have a stranger talk to your kids about emotions and sensitive topics. On the other hand, as some of the teen advocates point out, treating mental health like it’s a taboo topic that doesn’t belong in the school is reinforcing stigma and silence. Talking about mental health issues and diagnoses frankly with others helps normalize it and foster connection and healing.
Does mental health treatment belong in a school? The answer is tricky and elusive. One could make the argument that mental health is always present in school anyway. An in-school mental health clinic might work as early intervention to prevent students from suffering in silence and eventually ending up in a worse situation such as a lengthy hospital stay. But where do the boundaries of authority and privacy lie?