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Mental Health Issues & Problems at School
What Parents Need to Know

Mental health issues in youth and teens often present themselves as difficulties in school, and, if left untreated, can result in school drop out. The U.S. Department of Education reports that approximately 50% of students, ages 14 and older, with mental health problems eventually drop out of high school.1

According to Mental Health America, a student’s mental health issues can go far beyond typical school struggles. Mental health issues can make it difficult, if not impossible, for kids to achieve in school. Parents and teachers may see symptoms of a student’s mental health struggles expressed as a “decline in school performance, poor grades despite strong efforts, or repeated refusal to go to school or to take part in normal activities.”2

“The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that one in five children and adolescents will experience a significant mental health problem during their school years.”3 Author Andrea M. Spencer, dean of the School of Education at Pace University in New York and educational consultant to the Center for Children’s Advocacy, says that mental health problems can appear as early as preschool, but are often not diagnosed until a child reaches middle school.

According to a study entitled “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2005–2011,” conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, the most prevalent mental health disorders in children ages 3-17 include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioral or conduct problems, anxiety and depression, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome. In older youth, ages 12-17, drug and alcohol use, and cigarette dependence become prevalent.4

Many parents are ashamed to admit their child may have a mental health issue. That can lead to delayed intervention, and additional problems for the child, the family, and the school. Parents may also fear having their child labeled, or wonder if their child’s behavior is common for their age.

Pacer’s Children’s Mental Health and Emotional or Behavioral Disorders Project webpage says, “Perhaps the most important question of all for parents of school age children to consider is, ‘How much distress is your child’s problems causing you, the child, or other members of the family?’ If a child’s aggressive or argumentative behaviors, or sad or withdrawn behaviors are seen as a problem for a child or members of his or her family, then the child’ s behaviors are a problem that should be looked at, regardless of their severity.”5

Parents and teachers are often the first to notice that a student is struggling. If you think your child is suffering from a mental health issue, talk to your child’s doctor. You should also discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher. A school psychologist can also help you understand and manage your child’s mental health issues through assessments and referrals. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) website says, “School psychologists are specially trained to link mental health to learning and behavior.6 These professionals work to “help children and youth overcome barriers to success in school, at home, and in life.”7


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A list of resources for parents
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Helpful articles for parents
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(Q&A with Dr. Michelle Murray, Ph.D.)