Mental health has been addressed more in school systems in the past few years, yet it has worsened through the pandemic. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared child and adolescent mental health as a national emergency.
In response to the increased need for mental health resources, Superintendent Becky Albrecht proposed that the district hire two new social workers at the October meeting for the Maryville R-II School District Board of Education.
The board approved the proposal for one social worker to go to the middle school and one to go to the high school. The elementary school was not included in the proposal, because they already have a social worker.
“There aren't enough hours in the school day for our guidance counselors and building administrators to deal with these situations in addition to their routine tasks/management of the school day,” Albrecht wrote in her report.
In her report, she said the money being spent on these social worker positions would be money well spent. During the first quarter of school, there had been a significant impact on school days, staff and other school activities.
The school district already has the funds to cover these new employees, she said, so the only thing the Board of Education has left to do is find the right people for the positions.
Teachers, staff and administration inside the schools are seeing this impact firsthand.
Though the school website still lists Maryville High School Counselor Becky Houtchens as a guidance counselor, she said the nature of her job has changed over her 21 years in the profession.
Rather than only being focused on helping students with class and career choices, the position has now shifted to focus more on the mental health and well-being of students.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the need for those services, without a doubt,” Houtchens said. “I think it was growing and expanding even before the pandemic. However, I would say, like, these last two school years, especially, it has just skyrocketed.”
With the mental health decline spreading nationwide, it hasn’t only affected the Maryville R-II School District.
School closures during the pandemic limited an estimated 55 million children and teenagers from seeing teachers and other staff who would help them with issues they were facing in everyday life, according to The New York Times.
Houtchens said that although she has seen an increased need for help with mental health, she doesn’t think the pandemic is the only factor.
“I would say a dramatic increase in students dealing with anxiety and depression and just not having the skills to cope with difficulties that come their way,” she said.
Having a social worker wouldn’t only benefit the students by helping them find skills to cope and resources that are available to them, Houtchens said, but would also alleviate the counselors who are working with a large volume of students on a day-to-day basis.
“I think someone that their number one focus is connecting students to resources in the community, which is something we do as part of our job, but really having someone who can dig in and know these are all the resources that we have, would be a huge help to us,” she said.