By Darcy Gruttadaro, JD
Director, NAMI Child & Adolescent Action Center
August 23, 2005
Children and adolescents with mental illnesses often struggle in our nation’s schools. Most school professionals do not know how to address the academic and social needs of students with mental illnesses. The reason is often quite simple – they receive little to no training.
Students in the "emotional disturbance" designation under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA – our nation’s federal special education law), which includes those with mental illnesses, have the lowest academic achievement and highest dropout and failure rates of any disability group.
President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health has called on schools to play an important role in helping to identify students with the early warning signs of mental illnesses and linking them with services1. This comes at a critical time because currently approximately 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffers from a mental illness serious enough to cause significant impairment. Yet, only about 20% are identified and receive treatment.
Youth spend the majority of their day in school. It represents a low stigma setting for youth and families. Research shows that "school mental health programs improve educational outcomes by decreasing absences, decreasing discipline referrals and improving test scores2." More and more, NAMI is partnering with schools to help them identify students with mental illnesses and to improve the educational outcomes of these students. Yet we have a long way to go.
50% of students identified with emotional disturbances drop out of high school, compared to 30% of all students with disabilities3.
Currently, there are 513 students per school counselor, the recommended ratio is 250:1.
Only 18% of youth with the emotional disturbance designation under IDEA were employed full time after high school, while another 21% worked part time4.
The more that school professionals understand about early onset mental illnesses and the behaviors and warning signs that may be exhibited, the less likely they will be to inappropriately label a child as bad, dumb, or disinterested in school.
Lots of NAMI leaders at the state and local levels are doing outstanding and creative work in helping to educate schools about mental illnesses in children and adolescents and in beginning to hold schools accountable for academic achievement. Please contact Patricia Braun (firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-600-1110), NAMI’s Program Coordinator for the Child & Adolescent Action Center, to learn more about some of these activities.
1. New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America. Final Report. DHHS Pub. No. SMA-03-3832. Rockville, MD: 2003. You can order a free copy of this report by visiting their web site at www.mentalhealthcommission.gov.
2. New Freedom Commission report at p. 62.
3. U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (2001). Twenty-third Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Results
4. NFC Final Report at p. 30.
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