Is America Serious About Mental Health?
By Mary Bissell and David Gray
The New America Foundation
The Virginia Tech massacre raises questions that may never be answered. Even in the insolubility of this week's events, however, one thing is clear: Cho Seung-Hui was a very sick young man.
No one deserves an explanation to the questions this tragedy raises more than the victims and their families. One question we all should be asking: Is America serious about the mental health of its young people?
America's young people face a mental health crisis. According to the Foundation for Child Development's 2007 Child Well-Being Index, the emotional and spiritual well being of young people has fallen nearly 7% since 2002.
College counseling center directors report an increase in students with severe psychological problems. According to the 2005 National College Health Assessment, more than 62% of student respondents reported feeling "overwhelmed" at some point during the year. Nearly a third reported feeling "so depressed it was difficult to function" and more than 5% reported they "seriously considered suicide."
The pressures of growing up, fitting in and getting ahead leave many students in need of mental health support that many are not getting. For some, the stigma of mental illness is enough to avoid treatment altogether. Those students who seek counseling often face understaffed clinics and insufficient health insurance coverage.
To address the mental health needs of young people, we need adequate funding for mental health services. We need health providers and parents who monitor children's mental health as regularly as their temperatures. We must make sure that young people feel comfortable making an appointment with a psychologist. We should convene education, health, mental health, family and youth experts to identify communication strategies that build bridges between the education and mental health systems.
Would even the best mental health care have prevented the tragedy in Blacksburg? No one will ever know. It should, however, cause us to work to improve our nation's mental health system for our young people.
David Gray is the Director of the Work and Family Program at the New America Foundation. Mary Bissell, an attorney and child welfare policy expert, is a fellow there.
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April 19, 2007; 1:07 PM ET
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