LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – The way we approach discussing mental health is changing as stigma around the topic has shrunk since the pandemic. That is also trickling down to schools. On Tuesday, Kentucky students, alongside the lieutenant governor, made recommendations to lawmakers on ways mental health can be improved in the classroom.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said statistics from last fall showed a large mental health issue with the transition back to in-person learning. To find the root of the problem, for the past year students on the Kentucky Department of Education’s Student Advisory Committee have coordinated mental health summits across the state for students to connect with other students and find solutions for the issues they face.

“You’re looking at the experts up here, these are the people that we need to hear from as we work to address this issue that has arisen that we have to take on,” Coleman said.

Many parents already know the struggles that were common with remote learning during the pandemic, but in the slow transition back to normal, Kentucky students found many of their peers also found the transition challenging.

“Responses included people feeling anxiety or overwhelmed going back to school, people felt depression, in large cases major depressive episodes, and there was low motivation, especially during covid and people were lacking a sense of accountability and what to do,” KDE Student Advisory Committee member Bentley White said.

Over the course of 10 mental health summits, the student advisors heard from other students about ways to improve. They presented to lawmakers 10 recommendations for improving mental health.

  1. Elevating Student Voice
  2. Comprehensive Suicide Prevention
  3. Excused Mental Health Absences
  4. Expanded Mental Health Services and Treatment
  5. Expanded Mental Health Awareness & Education
  6. Mental Health Professional Development
  7. Mental Health Check-ins
  8. Breaks
  9. Eating Disorder Awareness
  10. Improving School Culture

“It doesn’t mean just having students at the table, it means authentically including them in the conversations that we’re having and really valuing their insights and thoughts and opinions KDE Student Advisory Committee member Spandana Pavuluri said of their first recommendation to elevate student voices.

In areas like suicide prevention, some students reported still being shown an outdated VHS presentation. The student advisors also want expanded access to mental health services and treatment to be available within schools themselves. Coleman spoke on this need while addressing concerns about mental health days.

“I went back into assistant principal mode and was like, ‘Well how do we know that won’t be abused?” One of the things I suggested was what if we required a note from a mental health provider the same way we do physical health and Juleah said, ‘diagnosis is privilege’ and that blew me away because that’s something I never had to worry about as a student. And so that is why if you are able to, as they recommended, put mental health providers in school systems then you can completely cut down on all of the either lack of communication or lack of intertwining of professionals and that really helps to close the loop in many ways,” Coleman said. She added this could also impact and change how school leaders approach discipline with a student, as a mental health professional could pick up on warning signs.

When asked by Sen. Reggie Thomas (D-Lexington), Coleman said she would support having a student serve as a voting member of the state school board.