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Tenn. school districts urged to focus on mental health support

by PRIDE Newsdesk
In 2022, Tennessee had close to one million K-12 students enrolled in nearly 1,906 schools in 148 school districts (photo courtesy of WavebreakMediaMicro/AdobeStock).

An education advocacy group wants school districts in Tennessee and across the country to focus on critical mental health support.

Tennessee ranked 41st in the country when it comes to a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care for youth.

Denise Forte, president/CEO of The Education Trust, said in the Volunteer State the top concern for parents, communities, and teachers is school safety and students’ mental health. She explained as a result of the pandemic, they have seen the rate of students’ mental health issues increase.

“In states like Tennessee, students have had a really hard time accessing mental health services,” Forte said. “One of the things that we also know is that student rates of suicide are going up. Terrible stats there say that one in five has seriously considered suicide, and one in 10 has actually attempted suicide.”

Forte argued the statistics prove more work needs to be done. Forte added her group is pleased the federal government has invested money in supporting students’ mental health, but pointed out it is important to know if states and school districts are using those funds effectively.

The Education Trust in Tennessee urges school districts to support the social, emotional, academic development and mental-health support of all students more effectively.

“That means everything from making sure students feel a sense of belonging, to they have strong social, emotional supports in the classroom, to even such things as getting rid of exclusionary discipline policies,” Forte said. “Those are policies such as suspension and expulsion.”

Forte emphasized they would like to see more schools focused on bringing in trained adults who will have a strong healthy relationship with students. She added it is also important for Tennessee students to have access to psychologists, counselors, and social workers to help foster social, emotional, and academic development.

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