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Virginia: Governor addresses mental health in schools; 'there's definitely an increase'

Jan 5, 2019, Williamsburg/Yorktown (VA) Daily: Mental health is taking a front seat in schools across Virginia https://wydaily.com/local-news/2019/01/05/mental-health-is-taking-a-front-seat-in-schools-across-virginia/ Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing for an increase in school counselors with a proposed budget of $36 million, and students in Williamsburg might benefit. “There’s definitely an increase every school year in students seeking help,” said Jennifer Smethurst, a counselor at Jamestown High School. “Things are just getting worse and we’re needing more support within the building.” … Northam is proposing that an increase in counselors leads to better student safety because counselors create a more positive learning environment. But Smethurst sees it as even more. “We are definitely seeing more anxiety and depression,” she said. “But we are also opening more dialogue about it. In the past 10 years I’m definitely seeing more students with a greater awareness of mental health issues.” … This is even more of an issue at the middle and high school level, she said, where students have a sense of autonomy in the mental health status and want to take advantage of the counseling offered to them. With more students means more constrained time for counselors which can impact the reach of help. And in some cases, not being able to reach a student in time can have dire consequences. In Virginia in 2017, there were 9,238 threat assessments, 50 percent of which were self-harm threats, according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Education. VDOE also noted suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth both nationally and in the state. … Smethurst acknowledged one of the best resources is teachers recognizing signs of mental health issues in students. The school provides training for teachers to help spot students in need but Michael Goldstein, the founder of a college prep charter school for low-income kids in Boston, said that still might be enough. ...