LUSD must address rising number of students with mental health issues

Lodi Unified School District has a responsibility to the parents, students and staff members of their schools and of the community. It is their job to ensure that students are able to learn to the best of their abilities; this can’t happen if students are burdened with personal or school-related stress that they can’t talk about with their counselors. We have depressed, anxious and suicidal students on campus, and we should be able to do more for them than have them be buried in a stack of call slips on a counselor’s desk, or have them be stuck unable to be referred to a school psychologist.

Bear Creek’s counselor to student ratio is 1:541 — about 100 students more than the maximum that they’re supposed to be responsible for: 450. The district’s goal for the counselor:student ratio at the high school and middle school level is 1:400. Bear Creek counselors cannot be expected to do their best work when they have 150 more students than they’re supposed to.

In addition to the increase in the number of students each counselor is assigned, more and more students are showing the need for their counselors. Studies done by institutions like UCLA show that at least one in 10 college freshmen report that they often feel depressed; more than half say that they have experienced “overwhelming anxiety” recently. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common mental illnesses affecting teens include depression and anxiety disorders. These mental health problems need to be addressed in high schools —where they often first manifest — before students reach college, where they often do not have a support system in place.

How sad is it that Bear Creek’s two psychologists — Jennifer Shirron and Carrie Rutledge-Spencer — spend the majority of the day testing special education students and completing the onerous paper work associated with each special ed student. Because of the time allotted to each special ed student, they are no longer taking on any regular education students. We don’t want to minimize the needs of special ed students, but their needs should not take precedent over other students’ struggles with suicidal thoughts, self-harm and depression.

On-site psychologists and counselors are essential because many students do not have the means to access their own private psychologist or therapist, whether it be because of money, insurance, transportation, or other obstacles.

Students need to be able to talk to their counselors about school and classes and graduation requirements; they need to be able to sit down and make a plan for themselves, if they so desire. Of course Bear Creek counselors insist that they would never turn students away, but that shouldn’t even be an option discussed; they shouldn’t be at the place where their workload is as high as it is.

The district needs to take action to adjust the caseload of each counselor by hiring additional counselors and psychologists to account for the rising number of students at Bear Creek, which is expected to increase over the next several years. Their top priority should be students who need to have their mental health needs met so they can focus on education. Expecting four counselors to handle approximately 2,160 students is a tragedy waiting to happen.