Hamilton: Focusing on Your Kids’ Mental Health

By: State Rep. Ryan Hamilton (Methuen)

As we look back on the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to highlight one of my legislative priorities for this session – youth mental health.

Our young people are facing staggering rates of poor mental health, made only worse by the isolating effects of the pandemic. In 2020, 48% of 14 to 24-year-olds reported feeling so hopeless and sad that they stopped engaging in regular activities such as school, sports, and extracurriculars. Rates of suicidal thoughts have risen significantly, with around 14% of high school-aged students reporting serious consideration of taking their own life.

For some communities, this rate is even higher, with almost 1 in 5 girls and more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ youth in Massachusetts reporting severe suicidal thoughts.

Our youth mental health crisis is clearer than ever, and action at the local, state, and federal levels is sorely needed.

Locally, the communities of Methuen and Haverhill are addressing this issue by tackling access to mental health care in our schools.

I am proud to announce that I have secured $50,000 in the House’s FY24 budget for mental health services and programming at Methuen High School.

While this is only a component of the more extensive mental health support system needed, efforts locally to support students and connect parents with mental health resources are critical to the health and well-being of young people.

At the state level, I have filed three bills that target the dire need for more mental health professionals in our schools.

H.494, An Act providing for mental health professionals in public schools, would require school districts to employ at least one school psychologist and one full-time social worker for all public schools, K-12.

H.465, An Act establishing Comprehensive School Counseling Programs, which I co-filed with Rep. Carol Doherty (D-Taunton), ensures that public schools develop and implement counseling programs and establishes a counselor-to-student ratio of at least one licensed school counselor for every 250 students.
And finally, HD.4357, an Act expanding licensure opportunities for school counselors, which was co-filed with Rep. Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill) in the House and Sen. Pavel Payano (D-Lawrence) in the Senate.
This legislation streamlines the dual-license process for school counselors to become licensed mental health counselors, focusing on the reality that many counselors often provide mental health care without adequate support or full licensure.

I filed these bills because I know that mental health is a significant concern in our community, especially for parents and family members at a loss for who to turn to for help.

These bills outline a comprehensive system for creating educational settings in which kids are supported in learning not only English and math, but about the importance of socioemotional skills and the value of their mental health.

As a national leader in education and youth engagement, it is time for Massachusetts to take action on the mental health crisis in our schools and throughout our communities.