NEWARK, Del. – It’s early August and back-to-school season is here. Mental health is a top priority for schools across the area, from roundtables to funding and legislation, leaders want to make sure students and families have the resources they need.
“We need, as a society, to stop talking about physical and mental health and talk about health,” said parent Chris Locke.
As students prepare to go back to school, books and bags aren’t the only things they bring back with them. For some, mental illness is a serious issue and, for many, the necessary resources are not available.
Delaware Gov. John Carney signed into law three bills that mental health advocates say are monumental and life-changing. House Bill 300 creates mental health services for high school students across the state, something Delaware Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst says is critical.
“House Bill 300 is an extension of House Bill 100, which I did last year. House Bill 100 ended the report of school psychologist social workers and mental health professionals in elementary schools. Today, we did it for schools medium,” Longhurst explained.
Additionally, House Bill 301, signed into law by the governor, mandates that mental health curriculum begin in kindergarten. “What it’s going to do is break down the stigma that it’s okay to be depressed. It’s okay to feel that bad, and here are the resources you can use,” Longhurst noted.
The same discussion is taking place in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In NJ, a panel discussion was held on the mental health impact the pandemic has had on children returning to school.
Meanwhile, in Pa., Governor Tom Wolf announced $190 million available for schools to promote healthier and safer environments.
Delaware bills were signed in a special place, called SL24, for a very specific reason. It is a home and resource for young people aged 14 to 24 to participate in what is perhaps their first conversation about their mental health.
It is in honor of Chris Locke’s son, Sean, who died by suicide. He says the days the bills are signed will save lives. “I would hope that he would use these resources, but we have to continue the conversation. We have to remove the stigma and then march it with sensitivity and action. We have to act. We are losing a lot of people, like Sean, to this terrible disease.”