In October, Here/Hear conducted a survey on mental illness and the help people could receive in local schools. The schools were located in Marshall County in the state of Indiana. Here/Hear is located in Plymouth, IN, which is the county seat of Marshall County. We thought that by examining attitudes and beliefs and helps in Marshall County, we could begin to put a spotlight on mental health in our schools there. 

Our survey was not very scientific, but it was reflective of attitudes in our county. We conducted the survey through Facebook with the help of Recon Media (www.recon.media). They were quite helpful in helping us filter the results and put together a good map of how schools operate in relation to mental illness and helping those with mental illness.

The last thing to note is that we broke the survey down into students, parents, and teachers/ school staff. We only had two students respond to our survey, so we have not put those results forward. Rather, we have focused on the responses of parents and teachers/ staff. We believe the results give us a good overview of how both view mental illness in our schools. 

TEACHERS/STAFF

Beginning with teachers and staff, we got good feedback from a number of schools. We believe there is adequate data to get a strong understanding of attitudes among teachers and staff as to mental health issues in schools.

Beginning our survey, we asked teachers if they felt adequately prepared to help deal with a student in the throes of a mental health crisis in the classroom. Some examples we provided were self-harm, an anxiety attack, a suicidal student, or someone in the throes of mania. 46% of teachers said that they felt prepared and another 46% said that they were maybe prepared. Only 8% said that they were not really prepared and no one said that they were not prepared at all. While we would like to see more teachers confident that they could handle such an issue, this is a good start.

Also, most teachers believe there is a plan in place at their school to help a student in a mental health crisis. 62% of respondents said they knew of such a plan. 23% said that their school had a plan maybe, while only 14% of teachers believed the school did not have a plan.

Teachers are also aware of initiatives at their school to help students with mental illness, including support groups, suicide prevention, convocations, and other such programs. 77% of teachers said they knew of such a program or initiative, while only 23% said that they did not know of any.

When asked if they felt confident that their administration could adequately deal with a mental health crisis to keep the crisis student safe and other students safe, most teachers did have confidence in the administration. No teacher put forward a vote of no confidence in their administration. We believe this is a really good thing.

Another positive is that 92% of teachers and staff said that they have had to have suicide prevention training. Only 8% said they had not. 

When dealing with drug abuse, there is a little more of an issue. When asked if they believe that the school system is doing enough to deal with drug addiction among students, only 15% said that the school system was. The vast majority had a vote of lower confidence, with 54% saying the school system might be doing enough, and 31% saying the school system was not doing enough. Since drug abuse is a major issue in our society and in our county, this is disconcerting. 

PARENTS

Parents were the largest group to respond to our survey. Their involvement in the survey shows a strong involvement in wanting to see mental health services at school to be ideal. Of the parents surveyed, 50% did not believe their student had a mental health issues, while 1/3 said their child did have a mental health issue and 17% were unsure. Also, 74% of parents surveyed said that they speak with their children about mental health issues, while only 26% said that they have not or have done so only once or twice. It shows that we have an engaged group of parents for our survey.

Parents are not overly confident in the ability of the school to address their students’ mental health problems. Only 4.76% said they were very confident the school could help their child. 38.1% were somewhat confident. However, over 57% were either less confident or not confident at all that the school could help their child address mental health problems. This shows that parents do not believe the school is helping or can help in this regard.

In line with this, when asked if they were aware of any programs helping students with mental health issues, 79% were unaware of any such programs or believe they do not exist at all. Only 21% said that they were aware of such programs. In this event, schools in Marshall County either do not have programs helping students with mental health issues or they have not done a good job of communicating the existence of such programs.

Similarly, when asked if they were aware of a school policy or plan to help a student in a mental health crisis, the vast majority said that did not know of one. Only 30% of respondents said that there was one or maybe one, while 70% said did not believe there was one. Again, if the schools do have such policies, they have not done an adequate job of communicating that to the public, especially parents.

On a more positive note, the majority of parents do believe that they could work with the school if their student was in a mental health crisis. While 55% of parents believe the school would be an entity to work with, 45% are still unsure or do not believe that the school would fill such a role. 

When asked if their school has a counseling referral program, only 31% said they were aware of such a program. The vast majority of parents, 57%, were not sure if such a program existed, and 12% said that there was not such a program. Again, if schools have such a program, as I know some schools do, there needs to be better communication of that to parents and students.

CONCLUSION

We believe that the above data speaks for itself. However, there is a major issue that we believe the survey points to. The major problem is that there is a disconnect between the school systems in Marshall County and the parents. Teachers and staff seem to have beliefs and ideas about what the school system is doing in regards to mental health issues, but those have not reached the parents. Better communication on the part of school systems would help dramatically. With that said, there is also onus on the parents to be advocates for their children and to “bother” schools for these resources. They are available and should be able to be made public to concerned parents.