Mental health initiative encouraged by grand jury meetings takes place regarding Marin school districts

Libby Hughes

As the first entirely virtual semester comes to a close for public high schools across the state, national reports have affiliated online schooling with the decline of mental health among students. Educators across the country have been pushing local governments to invest more resources into mental health assistance. This includes the Marin County grand jury, which monitors the local government and makes recommendations that can save taxpayers’ dollars and improve services. They have been advocating for the Marin County Office of Education (MCOE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to promote mental health awareness in school districts. The unpredictability of state revenue and economic decline due to COVID-19 has caused significant budget cuts for education, which has limited the funds that wellness communities among public schools have access to. 

Infographic by Mara Farese

According to a new report from the Marin County grand jury, Marin is in a mental health crisis. The report states that Marin schools need assistance in countering these problems by seeking funding as well as improving online and in-person access to wellness centers. 

From 2016 to 2018, the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) opened wellness centers in three of their high schools, High School 1327, Tamalpais and Redwood. According to an independent evaluation of the Redwood Wellness Center, about 40 percent of surveyed students reported that they would have received no mental health services without the wellness center and more than 60 percent reported that they were better able to manage their stress and were more satisfied with life because of the resources that the wellness center provides.

Wellness centers and other resources are important for students in order to destigmatize mental health. According to a journal published by the World Psychiatric Association, mental health has created an internalized stereotype which causes many young people and adults alike to not address their mental state. Marin Healthy Youth Partnerships Project Coordinator Lina Henn encourages high school students to take advantage of the resources they have available. 

Making these resources more readily available and accessible will take away a lot of the stigma and will lead to this being normalized a lot more. I think we’ve come a long way but it needs to continue,” Henn said. “We as adults and students shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about mental health or drug abuse or be afraid to reach out for help.” 

However, the grand jury does not foresee the resources that the TUHSD has, such as wellness centers, becoming available in other Marin County school districts including those in Novato and San Rafael. This creates a disparity in mental health assets. To combat this, the grand jury is also recommending that schools hire licensed therapists and provide the administration with outside mental health connections for students.

Marin grand jury meets via Zoom to discuss local government issues, one being mental health and wellness.

Starting in the fall of 2020, the HHS and the MCOE began directing the Marin Schools Wellness Collaborative to apply Strategy 6. The goals of Strategy 6 are to “implement trainings and education on screening and assessment of suicide risk.” While this is focused on suicide prevention, it is also focused on providing group and individual mental health services.

TUHSD wellness director Jessica Colvin recognizes the importance of wellness centers, especially during a time when many feel isolated. 

“Some students are really hurting or lonely during COVID-19 and normally they have the support services, but now they’re really on their own. For many people, their home is a safe space. However, for other students, home is a place they try to get away from every day, and that’s the whole goal of having wellness centers on campus. It’s to destigmatize mental health and talk about it openly in a nonjudgmental place,” Colvin said. 

A statewide survey revealed that since the pandemic, 80 percent of students said COVID-19 has led to increased levels of stress and anxiety partly due to the lack of in school mental health resources. In order to combat this, senior and Peer Resource student Mia Allen has been providing support to students through social media and wellness activities.

“Mental health is something that’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now [because] everything is so isolated, especially with students. There are higher levels of anxiety and depression as a result of the quarantine. I think that legislators and educators [want] to have these meetings as a community because Marin County schools need to improve access to resources for people who are struggling with mental health,” Allen said. 

Furthermore, the grand jury hopes that Strategy 6 will be able to provide the beginning of a countywide solution for mental health despite strained resources. The well-being of students will continue to be prioritized more because of the discrepancy in wellness resources among Marin public education.