By Elena Baugh
In 1985, Whitney Houston released what seemed destined to become a classic “The Greatest Love of All.” A staple in offices around the country, Houston sings of children being the future. And like every generation before them, the future generation will likely face many challenges.
The history here in Montana is highly diverse. Native Americans, gold miners, cattle and sheep ranchers, homesteaders, the great depression, and world wars, just to name a few.
Gaining an appreciation for the difficulties faced in the past can never minimize the difficulties of today.
If anything, it intensifies the respect for what each generation has overcome.
Growing up in today’s world presents its own challenges. Even though one can always hear the elders saying, “Well, I got up at 4 am every day to milk the cows and walk to school,” many kids today get up before the crack of dawn, too.
They stay up late with their books cracked and their hearts heavy with concern for their troubles today. They wake up early to catch up on what they weren’t able to complete the night before. Student-athletes hit the gym, track, field or pool for practice, and musicians hit the orchestra or band room to get a head start or simply catch up on what seems like endless work.
They feel the pressure of the world on their shoulders and keep ongoing.
The pressures our children feel today are intensified by social media.
Seeing everyone else’s “best days” play out online while a child is having their worst day, magnifies feelings of self-doubt.
And while kids are pressured as much as any time in history, a mistake today can be recorded and sent to every peer in the school within seconds, and stored for a lifetime. This constant scrutiny can be damaging to a child’s psyche and their ability to cope, resulting in an increase in a mental breakdown.
Mental Health is a difficult subject to discuss with anyone, and discussing it with teenagers and young children can be even more challenging.
Great Falls Public Schools has qualified professionals in the school to aid with these challenges.
Counselors are on the ground level helping our kids cope with parental divorce, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, isolation, homelessness, an onslaught of recent nationwide school shootings, and so much more.
Counselors engage the kids on a regular basis to become a friendly and familiar face for students regarding their class schedules or career paths, whether it be additional schooling after high school, tech school or jumping into the working world.
Counselors can set a student up for success and teach coping skills for the times when the world is a heavy burden. So, for some, this leads to students having a trustworthy individual when times get tough.
In the last four years, the district has cut 4.5 counselors from each high school.
With fewer counselors, we are, in essence, denying our children the opportunity to interact with professionals trained to help, guide, teach, counsel, correct, or address their problems.
Over the last ten years, our district has had to cut 102 teachers and counselors.
There simply is not enough money coming from the state and local taxes to cover operating expenses for the district.
With fewer teachers and counselors, class sizes and caseloads increase. With more students per class, teachers cannot provide each student as much time to ensure understanding and watch for mental health warning signs.
With fewer counselors, there isn’t time to provide as much individualized assistance.
On August 28, 2018; NBC News ran a story highlighting mental health in Montana. During this time in 2018, Montana had the highest suicide rate in the country.
The headline was eye-opening to be sure, but the story that followed brought this number to life on a more personal level. It was about a 13-year old boy whose life ended far too soon. (McCauseland et all, 2018).
This story has been repeated far too often. We must fund our schools.
We must provide our children with mentors, positive role models and the coping skills needed to successfully navigate today’s challenges.
Currently, Montana has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation, and Montana’s teen suicide rate is THREE times the national average. Suicide is the number two cause of preventable death for all people ages 10-44 (Rosston, 2018).
We must protect our children and we must start now. Whitney Houston knew this way back in 1985. Let us not repeat the mistakes of yesterday, and fund our children today.
Houston’s words are a keen reminder without funding to cover operating costs, teachers, and counselors; our children will not have the level of support that we all grew up with.
I believe that children are our future;
Teach them well and let them lead the way.
Show them all the beauty they possess inside.
Give them a sense of pride, to make it easier;
“Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”
McCauseland, Chuck and Flanagan. NBCNews.com. Montana had the highest suicide rate in the country, then budget cuts hit. August 28, 2008, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/montana-had-highest-suicide-rate-country-then-budget-cuts-hit-n904246
Rosston, Karl. Montana DPHHS. Suicide in Montana Facts, Figures and Formulas for Prevention. August 2018, https://dphhs.mt.gov/Portals/85/suicideprevention/SuicideinMontana.pdf?fbclid=IwAR39ZOP54Qsu_aH4jQXq6xtVhZregttZ0EE-GH4WA98LTMo9Z-2DHmi_IlM