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Put Mental Health First

One in six kids aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14 with up to one-half of those untreated. Unfortunately, suicide is second only to gun violence as the leading cause of death for young people (aged 10-34), so thank you, Fairfax County School Board members, for using ESSR III funds for counselors, psychologists, social workers, and family liaisons to support students’ social emotional needs. Your choice to put social emotional and mental health first will literally save lives.

Even before 2020, schools were facing a surge in demand for mental health care that far outpaced capacity, since only 15% of students have access to mental health care outside of school due to the limited number of youth psychologists, significant cost, and other access issues.

Across the nation, faculty are often relied upon as first responders due to the limited availability of counseling in and out of school, thus I appreciate your efforts to train more Mental Health First Aiders. This 8-hour training has been instrumental to me being the best student-focused volunteer I can be whether it is in school, in scouts, or with youth groups at my church.

I wish more adults were student-focused and understood how their behavior affects student mental health, safety, and academic excellence. Many witnessed an adult tell a student at a recent FCPS meeting that their safety was not her concern; however, student safety is required for student success, so it should always be an adult’s concern.

Our adult words and behavior trickles into our schools. I’ve heard the f-slur is commonly used against LGBTQIA students–shouted in the halls at individuals or outside after school GSAs–which is threatening. How can students learn, much less thrive, in and out of school if they feel unsafe?

Last Fall, our Student Representative on the School Board, Ms. Michele Togbe said: students are watching. They are listening to what we say and do. We need to set a good example: be kind, speak truth, support students and teachers, and identify issues and solutions. Merely, complaining offers nothing. But coming up with workable solutions means the world to our county.

We adults need to be thoughtful and kind problem solvers to set an example for our children and all students in Fairfax County. Thank you.

If you are a parent of a high school student who would like to know more about the free online teletherapy services offered through FCPS, please check this link. Additional mental health resources in Fairfax County and in public schools can be found here.

Vanessa Hall's input to the School Board on April 27, 2023 can be viewed below.


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