By Anthony D’Ambrosio
While it should be common sense that good mental health is critical to a child’s success in school and life, we, as a community, need to do better for our children. Let me be clear and speak plainly, America’s youth, and Revere’s youth, are in the midst of a mental health crisis. The explosion of snapchat, twitter, and Facebook have dramatically changed the way our children are growing up today. They can no longer come home after school and shut out the negative influences of the day. Their smart phones and laptops ensure that they are wired in 24/7.
The resulting data is startling. According to research done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, major depression among teenagers has surged 69 percent over the past 10 years; one out of every five girls experiences major depression. The suicide rate among 18-year olds has increased by a whopping 56 percent since 2008. The situation is even worse for younger children. Pediatric hospitals have determined that admissions of children ages 5 to 17 for suicidal ideation have more than doubled over the past decade. Here in Revere the statistics are similar. And anecdotally, we all know friends and family who suffer from depression and other related illnesses.
While I understand that childhood depression and related mental health issues are complex, I don’t understand why we aren’t all discussing this awful crisis more during this political season? Yes, tax rates, congestion, and development are all important issues, but isn’t the health and well-being of our children just as important? Isn’t the health of a community inextricably linked to the health and treatment of its children? As a united City, Revere needs to do better.
While it is difficult to determine the exact causes behind such spiking numbers, social media bullying, spotty mental health screening, and inadequate medical access are surely contributing factors. Regardless, more can be done to help our youth. Our schools provide a unique opportunity to identify and treat mental health conditions by serving students where they already are and at an age when the biggest difference can be made. Well trained school personnel play an essential role in identifying the early warning signs of emerging mental health conditions and in linking students and families with effective services and supports. Our caring and committed teachers are at the forefront of this crisis. We must support them in their efforts to combat mental health issues.
After understanding the crucial position that Revere Public Schools have in this crisis, we need to re-examine and redouble our efforts at assisting children. I believe in the creation of a system-wide, true “ombudsman’s program” to support children struggling with mental health issues. The new program will:
1. re-prioritize our resources and begin by increasing awareness of this difficult issue. Many of our students are afraid to seek help because they fear ridicule from their peers. We need to change the culture surrounding this issue in our schools. We must shatter the societal stigma that is too often attached to depression and other mental health issues. We are all God’s children with different strengths and abilities. Revere Public schools must take the lead in raising awareness on this issue;
2. increase training of school faculty and staff on the early warning signs of mental health issues and how to connect our students to mental health professionals; and,
3. increase our internal services and supports so that our community schools provide an effective level of school-based mental health services. Such services, offered on the spot and over time, are the most effective method of helping our children and giving them a real opportunity at better mental health.
I am often told that Revere politics amounts to nothing more than a popularity contest during election season; that it’s only about shaking hands and doing favors. I refuse to believe that it’s simply that shallow. With more young people suffering from depression and other issues, we can no longer ignore the mental health crisis in our backyard. While this may not be popular to say, in good conscientious, I surely will not avoid saying it.
Thank you for hearing me,
Anthony D’Ambrosio is a graduate of Yale University, B.A, holds a Masters degree from Cambridge University in England, and is a candidate for Revere School Committee.