Often times, mental health disorders are considered an invisible disability. You cannot simply look at a person and see that they have a mental illness. However, the National Alliance on Mental Health (N AMI) reports that 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness in a given year. Additionally, mental illness is a contributing factor in those in homeless shelters and prison. The leading mental illness is Depression which is a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.
Sadly, 1 in 5 children ages 13 to 18 have or will have a serious mental illness. Warning signs include feeling sad, withdrawn, mood swings, changes in appetite, lethargy, losing interest in activities, failing grades, school refusal, and use of drugs and/or alcohol. If left untreated, mental illness can lead to drastic consequences. Each year, more than 30,000 people commit suicide; it is estimated that 90 percent are believed to have had a mental health disorder.
With treatment, those living with mental health disorders can live safe, healthy lives. It is critical that those educating our youth in the public school system are trained in the warning signs of mental health disorders. If a mental health disorder is suspected, the school or parents should initiate a special education evaluation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504.) Under either statute, the school District should evaluate the psychiatric needs of the child to determine whether a mental health disorder may be impacting the child’s ability to learn, attend school, or otherwise function in the school environment. If so, the school district is required by both statutes to ensure the child is receiving appropriate services to enable the child to receive an appropriate education.
Statistics establish that mental illness, in reality, is quite visible. It is especially critical for those working in public schools to recognize the observable warning signs, and ensure proper intervention at an early age. After all, it could literally save lives.