Nonprofit Brings Mental Health Support To Schools Amid Nationwide Youth Crisis

Mason Joseph Zimmer
high school students demonstrating to promote mental health awareness
instagram | @nhrhswellness

Although there was already much to be anxious about in the world and there likely will be in the next era we enter as a civilization, the past two years have been disastrous for our collective mental health.

Because while there are many varying forms of mental illness, just about all of them can be negatively impacted by what's going on in their sufferers' environments. And between the pandemic, the recent of outbreak of war, the political tumult, and the civil unrest we've seen in just two short years, it seems almost impossible to escape our unhealthy surroundings.

This is particularly concerning for youths and although some states have put measures in place to support the mental health struggles of children and teens, many in this age group are experiencing a quiet but serious mental health crisis nationwide.

And that's why one nonprofit has started partnering with schools to address the gaps in their support systems.

According to a scholastic mental health colation called the The Hopeful Futures Campaign, the pandemic's disruption of students' education has worsened an already existing mental health crisis among young people.

sad teen crouching with head in his arms in front of brick wall
pixabay | Wokandapix

And according to their report as obtained by Good Morning America, this is exacerbated by the fact that resources in place to address this crisis are scarce with Washington D.C. and Idaho averaging one school counsellor for every 500 students.

That situation is even worse in West Virginia, Missouri, Texas, Alaska, and Georgia as that ratio jumps up to one counsellor for every 4,000 students.

And while that's more than any one organization can handle, a nonprofit working to bolster mental health resources in high schools and colleges called the Jed Foundation is in more of a position than ever to make a difference.

Mackenzie Scott smiling
twitter | @mackenziescott

That's because they recently received an unrestricted $15 million donation from philanthropist Mackenize Scott — who has made a mission of donating the funds she acquired after divorcing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — which will allow them to directly help over 12 million students.

The Jed Foundation's CEO John MacPhee has said that its ultimate goal is to triple the number of students they can reach and they've edged ever closer to it after receiving the largest donation in the organization's history.

In MacPhee's words, "You could also argue that schools are less equipped to be able to actually provide [mental health] support than they were before COVID-19, so we're hearing just a tremendous need."

And one of the places where they've seen this need is at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey. This school got into contact with the Jed Foundation at the urging of a parent after tragedy struck two alumni during their freshman year of college.

As the school's wellness and equity director Dr. Jessica Verdicchio said, "We are a pretty high-achieving district and there's a lot of pressure surrounding college and the kind of college that you go to and a lot of anxiety around academics and academic pressure. Our school community was not naïve to the fact that we have and have had challenges."

So after creating a coalition of students, alumni, parents, teachers, and administrators to determine what needed to change, Northern Highlands and the Jed foundation worked to introduce some sweeping responses.

These included a speaker series for parents that addressed topics like substance abuse and mental health, but it also saw the school train its entire student body of 1,300 people to identify students struggling with mental health issues and to know how to respond to their challenges.

Northern Highlands also conducts quarterly check-ins with each student and connects them with a counsellor if they're found to be struggling.

And as Verdicchio added, "We're offering parent training and infusing language regarding mental health and how to cope and how to ask for help as part of the fabric of our school. It's allowed our school as a whole to feel supported."

h/t: Good Morning America

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