The Stamford Public School System was hit with some dramatic numbers during Tuesday night's Fiscal Committee meeting when it was announced the district had seen a 261-percent increase in the number of students who were in need of mental health services over the last two years.
Mike Meyer, Director of Student Support Services, said he noticed the jump and began establishing a baseline, so the numbers are still in their relative infancy. However, the trend is already disturbing, with 140 kids being referred for assistance this year.
"The numbers are really alarming," Meyer said during the meeting. "It's a national problem - an international problem. Students have more and more mental health needs, and fewer of them are accessing services."
Meyer is hoping to add an additional school counselor or social worker position to support the high school student population, an age group that has seen a greater increase in students needing help.
So far, the Yale Child Study Team is providing support, and Stamford has received assistance from Fordham and Columbia universities.
"[The numbers are coming from] two school-based health centers, focusing on two high schools and two middle schools," Meyer said. "There are quite a few students with mental health issues, and very few of them are accessing that help."
Meyer said one giant thing he'd like to initiate is special training to help teachers of all various subject backgrounds further their ability to recognize a child in crisis and to not just assist, but assist in the right way.
"We have, for instance, kids who are in classes learning math and that kind of stuff and the teachers are certified in math, but their not really trained to deal with kids with mental health disorders, so Yale's going to help us with that," Meyer said.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Winifred Hamilton said even a single child "saved from that terror" by the addition of the new position would be enough justification for her to back the matter.
"The numbers are alarming and that's why we need to be proactive," Hamilton said. "With the economy, families facing financial crisis, loss of jobs, facing housing issues - there's a lot of exposure to adult problems and you get the sense we're all connected facing these issues. Before, they may have been a it more insulated. They're being forced to grow up a lot faster and face these adult problems."
Meyer said he wished he knew what the specific root of the problem was so he could help more directly, but with such an intangible issue, he can only hope to provide the necessary help needed to the kids that need it.
"There's just a lot of stuff going on in this world," Meyer said. "But it's an international problem. Maybe it's also better identifying and diagnosing, but the fact is I know a lot of the kids who get discharged and come to our schools end up going right back, like a revolving door. That has an impact on academics."