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 have to, as a society, stop saying physical health and mental health and talk about health," stated parent Chris Locke.
As students get ready to head back to school, book and bags aren’t the only things returning with them. For some, mental illness is a serious issue and, for many, necessary resources are not available.
Delaware Governor John Carney signed into law three bills mental health advocates say are monumental and life changing. House Bill 300 establishes mental health services for middle school students across the state, something Delaware House 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 closed the ratio of school psychologist social workers and mental health professionals in the elementary schools. Today, we did it for the middle schools," Longhurst explained.
In addition, House Bill 301, signed into law by the governor, mandates mental health curriculum begin in kindergarten. "What that will do is break that stigma that it’s okay to be depressed. It’s okay that you’re feeling this bad and here are the resources you could use," Longhurst remarked.
The same discussion taking place in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well. In N.J., a round table discussion was held on the mental health impact the pandemic has had on kids returning to school.
Meanwhile, in Pa., Governor Tom Wolf announced $190 million available for schools to promote healthier, safer environments.
The bills in Delaware were signed at a special place, called SL24, for a very specific reason. It’s a home and resource for young adults, aged 14 to 24, to participate in what is possibly the first conversation about their mental health.
It’s in honor of Chris Locke’s son, Sean, who died by suicide. He says days the bills signed will save lives. "I would hope he would use these resources, but we gotta keep the conversation going. We’ve got to remove the stigma and then march that with empathy and action. We have to act. We are losing too many people, like Sean, to this horrible disease."