Human resources

Lack of mental health resources for young people is creating a crisis

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Lisa Dansby Williams loves connecting students in need with mental health resources.

“It’s just been difficult for many students and their families to deal with some of the issues resulting from the pandemic, whether it’s domestic violence within the family, homelessness, maybe mom, dad lost their jobs,” she said.

As needs increase, services are strained.

“We have a limited pool of mental health professionals to employ. Some of the main issues are that they are moving to different platforms to provide services. Some have themselves been exhausted by the pandemic and some of the increase of the need for services and so that has also been a major issue,” Dansby said.

The national guideline for school counselors is 1 in every 250 students. According to the National Association of School Counselors, only 17.8% of school districts have met this requirement. Only 4.2% of urban school districts have achieved it, according to pre-pandemic numbers.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of students, families and staff, and even administrators referring students and families to us,” said Alma Lopez, who is a school counselor at a college in California.

“It’s been a challenge, you know, we dedicate full days and then more and so definitely the need to have more mental health professionals in the school building is a critical need in right now,” she said.

What has helped, Lopez said, is the decreasing stigma around mental health and increased awareness among lawmakers. However, she believes more needs to be done, including helping advisors.

“More people need to really understand the role of the school counselor and mental health professionals right in the school building,” she said.

For mental health workers, whatever help is given will show up for the students and be their much-needed rock, even if everything is so uncertain.

“Right now there’s a greater need to help family, so if I can make it happen, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Williams said.