Student Board Member Hana O’Looney: ‘We Really are in a Mental Health Crisis’

Students called for later school start times, more trained adults they can speak with and additional avenues to reduce stress during a virtual Youth Listening Session on Mental Health and Wellness Wednesday night.

Hana O’Looney, Montgomery County Public Schools Student Member of the Board of Education, said when she speaks with students throughout MCPS, the first thing they want to talk about is school lunches and the second is mental health. “We are truly in a mental health crisis,” said O’Looney, who cohosted the event with Councilmember Tom Hucker.

“This really can’t be more urgent,” Hucker said. “There are no easy answers to the complex issue of youth mental health.”

Since the start of 2022, nine students and recent graduates of Montgomery County Public Schools have died due to suicide, drugs or murder, Hucker said. “Each of these precious lives have an impact on the community,” he said.

Money is set aside in the MCPS budget to hire 50 new social workers, but so far only seven have been hired. There is such a demand for counselors trained in helping young people there just aren’t enough to fill all the jobs. Several panelists urged the students participating in the session to consider a career in the mental health field.

“We cannot just hire our way out,” said Board of Education Member Lynne Harris. “There just aren’t the counselors, the clinical social workers, the school psychologists out there.”

However, MCPS offers many other services including wellness rooms, a mental health hotline and programs on suicide, social and emotional learning, body safety and grief and many others.

EveryMind, a program to connect people in need that provides crisis prevention and intervention services, has a 24-hour hotline students can use.

During the session, a Walter Johnson senior said he suffers from sleep deprivation and the first class should not begin before 8:30 a.m.. High school start time is 7:45 a.m. Another high school student agreed, noting, “It’s hard to get adequate sleep” when a student’s day is filled with classes, homework, extra curricular activities and more.

Some of the other students who spoke asked for more time to just talk and get to know their teachers and to have short breaks included in their schedules to lessen stress.

Elani Bui, a freshman at Richard Montgomery High School, said it is great her school offers Rocket Refresh Days to relieve stress. But many of her teachers use the extra time to continue with a lesson, give a quiz or have students work on missing assignments.

Raymond Crowel, director of Montgomery County Health and Human Services, urged the students to reach out to those in need. “Be a friend. Be there for them.” Also, he stressed, talk to an adult if the issue is overwhelming.

Councilmember Will Jawando reached out to the students. “We care about you dearly,” he said, adding, “We understand how important and how big an issue this is.”

Added School Board Member Rebecca Smondrowski, “It does make a difference.u We are listening.”

Here is the 80-minute session.

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