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Rural Students Lack Access To Mental Health Services

Rural schools struggle to provide mental health services to students, and nearly half of the counselors in a recent study said less than 25 percent of their students received adequate counseling services.

That's one of seven main conclusions from a study published in the December 2011 issue of the Research in Higher Education Journal, "Assessing mental health needs of rural schools in South Texas: Counselors' perspectives," by Steve F. Bain, Breeze Rueda, Jennifer Mata-Villarreal, and Marie-Anne Mundy, all from Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Researchers focused on the mental health resource needs of rural schools in Texas, and they surveyed 27 school counselors in the South Texas and Coastal Bend areas to assess the availability of those services. Their funding came from the South Texas Expansion Program for Hispanic Graduate Students Project, and they hope to use the findings to figure out future strategies for improving those resources.

The study referenced prior research that said depression, substance abuse, and suicide rates among adults and children were higher in rural areas, and that school counselors play a critical role in providing mental health services to students.

Their other six key conclusions included:
• The need for mental health resources were unaffected by a school's size or the counselor's ethnicity.
• Mental health services should target Hispanic families because a majority of the school population was Hispanic.
• Most counselors said the community had few resources, and students families were unaware of those.
• Lack of knowledge about available mental health resources and accessibility were the top factors preventing families from receiving mental health services for their children.
• The majority of counselors reported feelings of burnout and frustration.
• The overwhelming majority of the counselors felt they needed more staff development related to mental health training, and a graduate counseling intern would benefit counselors and students.

Researchers noted the survey focused on 15 rural counties, so the findings aren't intended to be applied to more populated areas. They also suggested redefining rural to mean more than population and geography; it may need to consider the availability of services.

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