School counseling resources stretched thin at most schools
- Though the American School Counselor Association recommends that counselors work with 250 students each, the average caseload for school counselors is 482 students, NPR Ed reports.
- Mental illness in school garners a lot of attention when school shootings occur, but school psychologists already have heavy work loads, with most responsible for 1,400 students each, according to the National Association for School Psychologists.
- School counselors and psychologists are also concerned that the media attention on the mental health of school shooters will enhance the stigma of mental illness and prevent many students from seeking help. Statistically, people with diagnosed mental illness are not more likely to commit mass shootings, they say, and two-thirds of all gun deaths are the result of suicide.
According to the American School Counselor Association, the current role of school counselor is to “help all students in the areas of academic achievement, career and social/emotional development, ensuring today's students become the productive, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow.” This is a tall order for counselors who are charged with the oversight of hundreds, and even thousands, of students each day. Though the ratio of counselor to student varies from state to state, very few states come close to meeting the suggested ratio of one school counselor per 250 students.
Though the eyes of the nation are drawn to the issue of student mental health in the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, FL, most school districts cannot afford to hire more counselors and school psychologists. The medical community has been calling for increased funding for mental illness for years, but new funding is often scarce.
However, the recent tragedy may be opening the doors to more funding for these issues. On Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, said he plans to introduce a bill that would expand the use of existing federal funds to allow for more school counselors. In the current climate, some version of this measure is likely to draw bi-partisan support. In the meantime, there are some limited mental health grant funds available to schools that could offer some relief.
Though increased funding for school counselors will help the issue, most mental health issues are not identified in random contact with school counselors. This often requires relationship building, something that is more likely to be accomplished by teachers, mentors, or peer support efforts. Once potential issues are noted, school counselors or psychologist can better address the issues. School counselors do play a role in mitigating violence at schools. But they cannot do it alone.