Idaho taking action to address student mental health crisis

(Photo, KLEW)

The vice president of the Idaho State Board of Education says the time is now to intensify efforts to help students dealing with mental health issues.

"I would be as bold and go as far to say it is a crisis in our schools," says school board Vice President Debbie Critchfield.

She says more and more students are struggling with issue related to stress, grief, loss, addiction, anxiety and suicide.

“We see kids with more needs coming into school earlier, as early as preschool or kindergarten with behavioral and emotional needs, says retired social worker Steve Button. "School I think has become the default mental health system because of a lack of resources in a community.”

Button was a social worker with the Lewiston School District for 29 years, taught at the University of Idaho and Lewis Clark State and currently volunteers with the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho. He knows better than most how vital mental health treatment is at an early age.

“It can lead to ongoing mental health issues like depression and bipolar disorder as well as kids might become suicidal," he says.

The Idaho Board of Education says K through 12 administrators spend up to half their time addressing student emotional needs. But improper treatment can lead to serious consequences down the road.

“I actually had a number of students over the years, I had two that actually made a suicide attempt over the semester.”

Lisa Bomley, the social worker for all elementary schools in Lewiston, described their teachers as "trauma-aware" and heavily involved in caring for the students emotionally.

"They’re definitely giving them strategies to help regulate themselves in the classroom because the goal is to keep them in the classroom. We want them to be safe and all the other children to be safe."

And while some students at places like LC believe school members are taking the the right steps...

"There's great people that obviously like work here and care, for sure."

The state school board wants to make sure educators have explicit standards to follow and provide year-round student support.

"If you have the real conversations about what is important to that person in life then that's something that will actually change them and not just a temporary 'let me get through this week type of fix.'"


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