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In light of recent events with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018, the subject of mental health initiatives primarily directed to students and young adults has revealed some worrying statistics and gaps in care that need to be addressed. An article posted in October 2017 by Bethany Bray of Counseling Today revealed the massive discrepancy between many American high schools’ student population and their employed school counselors—the highest instances were reportedly in our home state of Arizona, with 924 students to 1 counselor, and California with 760 to 1. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that there be no more than 250 students per school counselor, but the most recent data (for the year 2014-2015) shows that the current ratio of all U.S. states hovers at 482 to 1—over double the recommended amount.

Why are School Counselors Important?

The responsibilities of school counselors can be varied, but one thing is clear: they are a direct conduit between a student’s academic, emotional, and mental wellbeing and the resources offered to address and resolve any issues and/or to encourage a student’s betterment in specific areas. Notable school counselor activities according to the ASCA include:

  • Providing counseling to students who are tardy or absent.
  • Providing counseling to students who exhibit disciplinary problems, and taking the next steps to refer students to additional therapy and behavioral supports as needed.
  • Providing individual and small-group counseling services.
  • Helping the school’s principal identify and resolve student issues, problems, and needs.
  • Analyzing grade-point averages in order to equip students for success.
  • Ensuring student records are maintained for state and federal regulations.
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It’s not hard to gather that a lot of what school counselors do is geared toward one-on-one observation, monitoring, and assistance for young adults in regard to their social, emotional, and mental health. As technology has advanced, cyberbullying and other potentially traumatizing and disturbing experiences/situations linked to social media have increased exponentially, as have video games and virtual reality scenarios that promote and even applaud violence, the use of various weapons, and even homicide or domestic abuse as a part of the game’s plotline. An article published by Alice Park of Time reported that a 2011 study on violent video game usage found that a week’s worth of playing a first-person point of view “shooter” game resulted in participants exhibiting less brain activity in those areas that control emotion, attention, and inhibition of one’s impulses. While these changes weren’t permanent, they did leave lingering effects of altered brain functions—and the researchers stated that the participants’ brain changes mimicked those of individuals diagnosed with sociopathic disorders.

School counselors are an essential support system for students and oftentimes the first line of defense in alerting the proper channels of a student’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, physical and/or sexual abuse, and early signs of destructive/dangerous behaviors that require immediate mental health initiatives to ensure the student’s safety and the safety of those around them.

How to Support School Counselors and Utilize Their Expertise

  • Make educated choices about where to enroll your students, and speak with faculty about the current ratio of school counselors to students so that you have an idea of the type of care your child might receive.
  • Join the Arizona Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or the PTA chapter of your state to promote advances and support of school counselors at your chosen school.
  • Become acquainted with your child’s school counselor, and maintain regular communication so that the counselor knows your family—they will likely pay more attention to your child’s academic, social, and mental well-being this way, especially if they’re extremely outnumbered by students.
  • Encourage your child to speak with their counselor one on one, and be sure that they know everything discussed is confidential (unless they are a danger to themselves or others).

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