Supporting a 1:250 counselor ratio in public schools

by Kathryn Haines and Anna

Note from Anne Moss. I’m supporting candidates, red or blue, who support mental health, including addiction support. Kat Haines is running for Chesterfield County School Board in Virginia. I hope you will support these candidates, too. Because nothing is going to change if people who don’t get it are making the decisions.

They say you know more people when you have kids in school than you do at any other time in your life. As I collect people’s stories, their struggles with mental health emerge as a theme, not only in my own family, but in the families of my kids’ friends.

While researching mental health, I learned that the counselor to teacher ratio in my school district was close to 1:500 in some schools. The evidence-based recommendation is 1:250. We need a ratio of 1:250 in all schools so that we can identify problems that kids like Anna experience. (Anna is my daughter’s close friend.)

I want to repeat Anna’s story, which I read at a school board meeting this past winter. I want to repeat it so that more people will understand why reducing our school counselor case load is so important, and why mental health has to be as important as providing academic support. We need to share our stories.

In her words:

My name is Anna.

I am sixteen years old.

As a child I suffered from frequent abdominal pain and was diagnosed with IBS.

When I was in the sixth grade I started missing school due to the IBS. I would be out for a few days, but when I was well enough to return, I was riddled with anxiety about making up missed work. The anxiety made me miss more and more school, but I couldn’t stop the cycle.

When I was younger my parents could force me to go back to school, but later they couldn’t.

Regardless of missing school, I still made good grades, so there were no red flags.

When I went to high school I was at the specialty center and I really liked it.

I got sick again and was out for days.

I realized my parents couldn’t force me to go to school so I stayed in my room. I didn’t eat and when my parents would check on me I would just say, “Leave me alone,” or, “Go away.”

Finally my mom called the police.

That scared me into going to see my current psychologist. He helped a lot. I also went to Tucker’s Wellness and Recovery Treatment Program.

At the beginning of my sophomore year the trouble started up again. I only went to school for a couple of weeks.

I went to a Psychiatrist and he diagnosed me with Bipolar 1 disorder. I am currently being treated for that and am doing better. My psychologist suggested home schooling and that is what I’m doing now.

My experience with the school counselors wasn’t very good. They didn’t seem to know what to say or do. They were ineffective in helping me. The only way I got help was my parents were able to spend a lot of time and energy finding me that help.

I am more privileged than most. I have insurance to pay for the doctors I see. I have insurance to pay for the medicine I need. My mother can stay home and support me in home schooling.

What happens to other students who have emotional or mental disorders that can’t get the help I did? Their grades are good like mine and nobody is noticing that they need help. These students suffer through high school, or end up dropping out.

In order to help other students like me, I think there need to be more qualified counselors and counselors need more training.

In my dance class I was asked to give advice to freshmen. My advice was, ‘Grades aren’t everything.’ Nobody thought that was good advice, but if someone had told me that, I know that my anxiety disorder would have been less.”

Now that you have heard Anna’s story, we need you to join our fight.

With current high student to counselor ratios, counselors often don’t have the chance to be effective. Yet we expect the impossible from them.

If you have a child with a story similar to Anna’s, share your story. Advocate for more funding to support evidence-based counselor to student ratios at both the local and state level so that we reach all the Annas before they drop out of school.

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Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my youngest son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

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