Do rural students have adequate mental health resources? Heads of State call for change | national

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – The mental health crisis continues to impact college students across the country and right here in North Central Pennsylvania. As state officials and programs push for change, they attempt to guide policy decisions typically left to school districts.

A state program from the Office of the Attorney General, Safe2Say Something PA” (Safe2Say), offers students and community members the ability to report anonymously without using school channels. Since the program launched in 2019, more than 70% of reported tips describe instances of bullying, mental illness, suicide and self-harm, discrimination and harassment.

The program has received over 80,000 tips from Commonwealth students since its launch in 2019. Of the total Safe2Say tips received, 72.9% focused on cases of bullying, suicide and self-harm, mental illness or discrimination and harassment. The program was started by PA lawmakers’ concern for mental health issues.

As for institutional changes in schools, one call is for more mental health professionals per student, a call the Attorney General’s Office has made every year since the reporting program began.

Pennsylvania falls short on its counselor-to-student ratio, with an average of one school psychologist for every 1,078 students; the national average is one psychologist for every 500 students, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.

Mental health education, inside and outside of schools, is also needed, according to Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “I think we need to make sure we listen to students and remove the stigma associated with getting help,” Shapiro said, before adding that parents also need mental health education; this way, children have more resources to turn to.

Rural communities face particular challenges accessing mental health resources, according to Shapiro. A potential policy change could result from “increasing the number of health care professionals in these rural communities by offering loan forgiveness to graduates who agree to practice in these rural communities. This is a way to incentivize them to bring their talents in often medically underserved areas,” Shapirō said.

The report also cites long-standing data trends that show the presence of a school counselor reduces instances of disciplinary action, increases academic performance and improves attendance.

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