Opinion: Let’s Talk: Mental Health Crisis & EG Schools  

by | Oct 24, 2022

Submissions are welcome – send to [email protected]. The last day to submit an opinion column (or letters to the editor) about the Nov. 8 election is Tuesday, Oct. 25, two weeks before election day (11/8).

By Theresa Daly  

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, teen mental health was already a growing concern. Then, as schools closed for distance learning and children were isolated at home, away from their peers and extracurricular activities, data shows that their mental health worsened. 

According to an April 2022 report by the Children’s Hospital Association, between March and October 2020 (the height of the pandemic): 

  • The percentage of children visiting the emergency room for mental health issues rose 24% for children ages 5-11 and 31% for children ages 12-17, 
  • Emergency room visits for self-injury and suicidal ideation and attempts in children ages 5-18 at a 42% higher rate than during the same time in 2019, and 
  • There was a 50% increase in emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12-17 in early 2021, as compared to the same period in 2019 (1)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported suicide as being the second leading cause of death among teens in 2020, a 31% rise from 2019 (2)

In December 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory declaring a mental health crisis for American children, citing an alarming number of young people were struggling with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide (3).  

Here in Rhode Island, in 2021, 467 teenagers were admitted to a health care emergency center after a suicide attempt, compared to 334 in 2020. Three-quarters of those attempting suicide were girls. Keep in mind, those numbers reflect only the children who were admitted. Bradley Hospital’s 24-hour hotline, called Kids Link Rhode Island, saw a doubling of calls between fiscal year 2019 and fiscal 2021 – from 4,849 to 9,702 (4)

Right here in East Greenwich, Dr. Cindy Klipfel of East Greenwich Pediatrics, the practice I take my own children to, stated in an article recently published by the Providence Journal that she has witnessed a “profound” shift in the care that pediatricians provide; the level and degree of mental health issues pediatricians are seeing is “astronomical” and it has become a crisis (5).   

So, what has our School Committee and district done to address this mental health crisis? Good question…. 

The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 1 Guidance Counselor to 250 students (6). Interestingly, for the 2020-21 academic year, the national average was 1:415 and Rhode Island’s average was 1:414.  

So how did East Greenwich Public Schools fare? Well, let’s see. Per the RIDE Report Card (7), here are the number of students per school (as of 10/1/2020): 

  • Frenchtown: 232 
  • Meadowbrook: 270 
  • Eldredge: 296 
  • Hanaford: 269 
  • Cole: 639 
  • EGHS: 809 

Total District Students: 2,515 

According to the Faculty and Staff Directory currently posted on the EGPS website (www.egsd.net), below is a breakdown of Guidance Counselors, Psychologists, Social Workers, and SROs. 

Guidance Counselors – 6 total 

  • Cole Middle School: 2 for 639 students equals a ratio of 1:319 
  • EG High School: 4 for 809 students equals a ratio of 1:202 

Psychologists – 3 total 

  • 1 Psychologist shared between Hanaford and Meadowbrook 
  • 1 Psychologist shared between Eldredge and Frenchtown 
  • 1 Psychologist for Cole 

Social Workers – 3 total 

  • 1 Social Worker shared between Frenchtown and Meadowbrook 
  • 1 Social Worker shared between EGHS, Cole, Hanaford, and Eldredge 
  • 1 Social Worker for the district 

Resource Officer – 1 total 

  • 1 SRO at EGHS [Editor’s note: According to Police Chief Brown, there are two SROs, one at Cole and one at the high school.]

Using COVID funds, a Director of MTSS (Multi-Tiered Support Services, www.egsd.net/mtss) position was created for the 2021-2022 school year. The position was originally filled by our former Meadowbrook Farms Principal, Neil Marcaccio, who has now moved on to the Director of Student Services role. 

It’s important to point out here that MTSS is a framework for educators to recognize student academic and behavior challenges, allowing teachers to intervene early and provide targeted support to struggling students. It really has nothing to do with providing specific mental health support to students. 

So, what do we do about the mental health of students while they are in the care and concern of our schools? 

As you can see from the ratios/staffing numbers I shared above, the current East Greenwich Public Schools support system is overwhelmed, and it’s at no fault of the staff; the School Committee did not

take appropriate steps to put proper mental health support in place, even though East Greenwich parents expressed concern about those exact things. 

While I could never complain about their adding of FTEs such as a Psychologist or Social Worker, our students need intervention and support right now; our psychologists and social workers have caseloads and students aren’t able to get access to them on their own. 

To address that, I would like to see each school have at least one (registered) behavior counselor/technician, who can be accessible to students and provide much-needed relief to guidance counselors. While these new staff members would not be in a traditional “counseling” role nor meant to replace guidance counselors, they would be accessible to a student and would be there for intervention, de-escalation, and general support. 

According to Indeed.com, the typical salary for a behavior technician is about $39,869 per year. If we were to employ one per school, it would be an annual expense of $239,214 (not including benefits, etc.). If we were to spread that out over the number of students in our district, the cost per student would essentially be $95 but the benefit to them is priceless. 

In my research, I have found that districts across the country are hiring individuals for these types of roles in order to accommodate the increased need and demand for mental health support – 70% of students who receive mental health services do so through their public school system. 

When a student does not receive adequate support for their mental health needs, it can be a very significant obstacle to not only their emotional and social development, but to their academics. And unfortunately, we are seeing that when a student’s mental health needs are ignored or dismissed, it can compromise the safety of the schools and the community. 

The School Committee knew mental health was an issue last school year, and they knew it was an issue when they budgeted for this school year. When I am elected to the School Committee, I will be addressing this issue and working with my fellow committee members, district administrator, and the community so that we can put a plan together to get these students the help they need. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Theresa Daly is a candidate for election to the East Greenwich School Committee.  

Works Cited  

1 “Communities in Need: Legislation to Support Mental Health and Well‐Being.” Children’s Hospital Association Statement for Record, 5 April 2022, https://www.childrenshospitals.org/‐/media/files/public‐ policy/mental_health/letters/2022/eandc_communities_in_need_hearing_sfr_040122.pdf. 

2 “Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Aug. 2020, www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/su/su6901a6.htm?s_cid=su6901a6_w.   

3 “Communities in Need: Legislation to Support Mental Health and Well‐Being.” HHH.gov, 7 December 2021, www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/12/07/us‐surgeon‐general‐issues‐advisory‐on‐youth‐mental‐health‐crisis‐ further‐exposed‐by‐covid‐19‐pandemic.html. 

4 “Annual Rhode Island Kids Count report shows worsening mental health, learning conditions.” The Providence Journal, 16 May 2022, https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/local/2022/05/16/pandemic‐has‐ worsened‐childrens‐mental‐health‐and‐learning‐ri‐kids‐count‐report‐2022/9785806002/. 

5 “Rhode Island Children in Crisis: Why Doctors Have Declared a Mental Health Emergency.” Providence Journal, 20 May 2022, https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/healthcare/2022/05/20/mental‐health‐crisis‐ rhode‐island‐children‐pandemic‐worsens‐depression‐suicide‐attempts/9675103002/.   

6 “School Counselor Roles & Ratios.” American School Counselor Association, www.schoolcounselor.org/About‐ School‐Counseling/School‐Counselor‐Roles‐Ratios. Accessed 15 October 2022. 

7 “RIDE Report Card.” Rhode Island Department of Education, 2020‐2021 data, https://reportcard.ride.ri.gov/202021/DistrictAccountability?DistCode=09.

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Kristin David
October 25, 2022 9:10 am

This is so spot on. Primary care medicine serves the mental and population health needs of a community similar to schools. The offer mental health care access in a community setting. The gold standard of integrating behavioral health into an existing PCP system is a clinician AND a mental health advocate. Many times someone presenting with mental health issues require support around areas that don’t necessarily need to be served by an independent license. This model allows more people to have access to mental healthcare in an existing setting and helps reduce access issues and therapist burn out.

Jean-Nicole goudie
Jean-Nicole goudie
October 25, 2022 4:44 pm

Insightful and so true! Thanks for bringing this topic to the forefront.

Lisa Holley
Lisa Holley
October 25, 2022 5:36 pm

You have my vote. This was a thoughtful and well researched opinion piece.

Jonathan H. Martin, MD
October 25, 2022 6:06 pm

While I agree that all schools need adequate staffing to handle childhood mental health issues, we must not lose sight of the root cause of these changes.

In my opinion the stress that was placed on our children over the past three years has been a direct result of our COVID-19 policies in Rhode Island. And while I believe much of this stress is born of the national policies and the paradigm shift in discourse that has occurred, we must act locally to prevent this from ever happening again.

There were plenty of people screaming from the rooftops that these policies were going to be disastrous for our kids. They were shouted down, censored, and made to feel like pariahs. We should have listened to the dissenting voices, because everything keeps pointing to the fact that they were correct.

These policies served to isolate our children, make them feel like dangerous vectors of disease, turn their worlds upside down, and permanently effect their education for the worse. These state and national policies, compounded by the constant barrage of questionable material they are being exposed to on social media, and even in some cases their school settings, has created a disaster that we will be dealing with for decades to come.

October 27, 2022 11:32 pm

The mental health of our children should be a priority for everyone. However, blaming policies that were put in place to protect us all as the root cause for the state of children’s mental health is a stretch. The cause is a global crisis that killed millions, where children lost family members, where children & the people they care about most have been left with long term health issues. The root cause is the pandemic not the policies. The politicizing of such a traumatic event is disgusting. Yes, children were impacted. That’s bound to happen in a pandemic. Did you think children would come out the other side of millions of people dying without any impact on their mental health?

October 29, 2022 9:14 pm
Reply to  Shirley

Covid policies most certainly played a significant role in the current mental health crisis that plagues our children. It’s not the only cause, but when we had parents screaming from the rooftops about the mental health effects these policies were having on our kids no one listened. Our leaders, who were in a position to help DID NOT LEAD.

October 30, 2022 10:35 am
Reply to  Lisa

I imagine the people who are immunocompromised and who have family they love who are immunocompromised, would beg to differ. They led for the ones for who this was a life or death situation. And that’s the thing – this is about EVERYONE. A leader has to lead for everyone not just the people in their corner. I worry that a “leader” who doesn’t see the value in the pandemic policies that were passed doesn’t see how important they were to people for whom this was a life or death situation. Or a “leader” who is willing to stage those policies as the culprit for a problem they’re going to “solve.” Support the mental health of children? 100% Painting pandemic policies & policy makers as the culprits for the state of children’s mental health? No thanks.

October 29, 2022 10:00 am

Thank you for doing the work on this piece and sharing a lot of facts. I have a first hand look into the world of mental health and we have a crisis that’s even bigger than Covid. We have kids depressed at record number. Kids having suicidal thoughts…younger. We need to wake up and start to fix this. I’m glad we have candidates like Theresa Daly running who will dive deeper and get to work on fixing this rather than sweeping it under the rug as others have done.

October 29, 2022 11:15 am

This is a well-researched piece loaded with facts. I commend Theresa for focusing on mental health issues which were no doubt exacerbated by our States and our local elected officials abhorrent and abusive Covid policies.

I’m grateful Theresa brought this to the forefront and I fully support her as an EG school committee member.


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