School psychologists are needed to treat troubled children

27 Feb

Pamela Paul has a fascinating article in the New York Times about preschoolers and depression. In the article, Can Preschoolers Be Depressed? Paul does a great job of describing what depression looks like in small children and reporting about nascent research efforts by various universities.     

How Common Is Depression In Children?  

According to Mary H. Sarafolean, PhD in the article, Depression In School Age Children and Adolescents

In general, depression affects a person’s physical,  cognitive, emotional/affective, and motivational well-being, no matter  their age. For example, a child with depression between the ages of 6 and 12 may exhibit fatigue, difficulty with schoolwork, apathy and/or a lack of motivation. An adolescent or teen may be oversleeping, socially isolated, acting out in
self-destructive ways and/or have a sense of hopelessness. (See table 1.)    

Prevalence and Risk Factors             

While only 2 percent of pre-teen school-age children and 3-5 percent of teenagers have clinical depression, it is the most common diagnosis of children in a clinical setting (40-50 percent of diagnoses). The lifetime risk  of depression in females is 10-25 percent and in males, 5-12 percent. Children and teens who are considered at high risk for depression disorders include:

* children referred to a mental health provider for school problems
* children with medical problems
* gay and lesbian adolescents
* rural vs. urban adolescents
* incarcerated adolescents
* pregnant adolescents
* children with a family history of depression    

If you or your child has one or more of the risk factors and your child is exhibiting symptoms of prolonged sadness, it might be wise to have your child evaluated for depression. Because many children exhibit symptoms of depression, schools are increasingly forced to deal with depressed children.

Mark Phillips, professor emeritus of secondary education at San Francisco State University wrote the article, School psychologists: Shortage amid increased need which discusses the need for psychological support in schools.

The adolescent suicide rate continues to rise, with each suicide a dramatic reminder that the lives of a significant number of adolescents are filled with anxiety and stress. Most schools have more than a handful of kids wrestling with significant emotional problems, and schools at all levels face an ongoing challenge related to school violence and bullying, both physical and emotional.

Yet in many schools there is inadequate professional psychological support for students.

Although statistics indicate that there is a significant variation from state to state (between 2005- and 2011 the ratio of students per school psychologist in New Mexico increased by 180%, while in the same period the ratio decreased in Utah by 34%), the overall ratio is 457:1. That is almost twice that recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

THE NASP noted a shortage of almost 9,000 school psychologists in 2010 and projected a cumulative shortage of close to 15,000 by 2020. Mental Health America estimates that only 1 in 5 children in need of mental health services actually receive the needed services. These gross statistics also omit the special need of under funded schools and the increased roles school psychologists are being asked to play.

This problem, for the most part, is not one of commitment or values. Most school leaders recognize the problem and want to effectively address it, but they report that most of the counseling support services they have are for testing and helping kids with special emotional and/or learning problems. Even this is inadequate, with the psychologist available only a day or two each week.

In the best-funded districts, there is more full-time psychological counseling available for students. Yet, even in these districts, principals indicate that they have more students who need help with stress management than the existing counseling services can provide.

The problems extend beyond inadequate support services. School advisories — when a group of students meet with a teacher for advisory help — are supposed to provide psychological support but rarely do. Most students I’ve spoken with perceive advisories as a time for academic help but not a place they can go to deal with personal problems. Few schools are able to offer the training that teachers need to be able to provide that kind of support. Even those schools that have sponsored a program like Challenge Day, which provides an opportunity for students to openly discuss their individual struggles, rarely have a sustained follow-up program in place.

A bill was introduced in Congress last November that would provide some alleviation of this problem in lower income areas. H.R. 3405 is the Increased Student Achievement Through Increased Student Support Act. It would provide grants to partnerships between schools and low- income local educational agencies to improve the ratio of school counselors, social workers, and psychologists. Although limited in focus, it is at least a start. The bill was sent to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and has still not been acted on by the Committee.

Even with the psychological services that should be provided and often aren’t, schools can’t fully prevent suicides, acts of violence, bullying, or the daily stresses that weigh on kids shoulders. The malaise runs deeper and broader.

Still schools need more resources than they receive in order to provide more programs that actively identify and counsel those kids that need help. At the very least, they need to alleviate some of the stress these kids are experiencing and to help improve the quality of their daily lives.

It is important to deal with the psychological needs of children because untreated depression can lead to suicide.

Why Do Teens Attempt Suicide? 

The American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry has some excellent suicide resources 

Suicides among young people continue to be a serious problem. Each year in the U.S., thousands of teenagers commit suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds.

Teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears while growing up. For some teenagers, divorce, the formation of a new family with step-parents and step-siblings, or moving to a new community can be very unsettling and can intensify self-doubts. For some teens, suicide may appear to be a solution to their problems and stress.  

Sometimes, people see suicide as an answer to their problems. All of us must stress that suicide is always the WRONG answer to what in all likelihood is a transitory situation.  

What are the Warning Signs of Suicide? 

According to Teen’s Health there are some suicide warning signs 

Warning Signs

There are often signs that someone may be thinking about or planning a suicide attempt. Here are some of them:

talking about suicide or death in general

talking about “going away”

referring to things they “won’t be needing,” and giving away possessions

talking about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty

pulling away from friends or family and losing the desire to go out

having no desire to take part in favorite things or activities

having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly

experiencing changes in eating or sleeping habits

engaging in self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or cutting, for example) 

These are signs that indicate a person may be depressed. 

According to Jared the primary cause of suicide is depression. 


It can be very hard to diagnose depression.  There are many different kinds of depression and not all people will have the same symptoms, or have them to the same degree.  Here are some symptoms to watch for and if they last more than a few weeks, a doctor or psychiatrist should be consulted. 

Persistent sad or “empty” mood

Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless

pessimistic and or guilty

Substance abuse

Fatigued or loss of interest in ordinary activities

Disturbances in eating and sleeping patterns

Irritability, increased crying, anxiety and panic attacks, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions

Thoughts of suicide; suicide plans or attempts

Persistent physical symptoms or pains that do not respond to treatment 

The site also lists events that might trigger depression in a person. 

A death of a family member or close friend – which could include a fellow student from school

An assault, car accident or painful physical event – which could include physical bullying

Mental, or emotional event – which could include non-physical bullying

Marriage breakup, or love lost suddenly – which could include “breaking up” with a girlfriend or boyfriend

Constant physical, mental, or emotional pain that goes on for a length of time – which includes constant bullying that is not intervened, resolved or stopped entirely

Major Financial setback – which includes a teenager who may have lost a job

Something “embarrassing” happens – as an example; getting kicked off a football team or a public insult by a teacher or popular student; bullying

Failing an important exam a school – not a normal trigger unless the exam was life changing and the individual is under a lot of stress

A best friend moves out of town – especially true for teenagers who are being bullied and have very few friends as it is 

If you notice these signs, the key is to get help for yourself or a friend. 

What Should You Do if You Know Someone Who Thinking About Suicide? 

If you are thinking of suicide or you know someone who is thinking about suicide, GET HELP, NOW!!!! The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has some excellent advice about suicide prevention If you or your child needs help for depression or another illness, then go to a reputable medical provider. There is nothing wrong with taking the steps necessary to get well.” That statement should be clarified to make it perfectly clear that appropriate medical care may include a second, third or more medical opinions if necessary.


Teen’s Health’s Suicide

American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Teen Depression

Jared Story.Com

CNN Report about suicide

Dr. Wilda says this about ©

8 Responses to “School psychologists are needed to treat troubled children”


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