The importance of mental health and wellness

By Ed Manansala

The character of students in El Dorado County reflects achievement, persistence and hope. Yet even in the midst of such promise, students in El Dorado County and throughout the United States are encountering greater pressures surrounding mental health and overall wellness. The last two years of the pandemic have accentuated these challenges.

In a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention study regarding teenage mental health, it was noted that American high school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent. Across our county, efforts are underway to help identify and address the mental health needs of our students and families.

The El Dorado County Youth Commission, composed of 12 students appointed by the County Board of Supervisors, helps develop and express the opinions, ideas and vision of El Dorado County youth by working with local government and community decision-makers. “This partnership between the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and the El Dorado County Office of Education allows Commissioners to express the voice of youth to county leaders,” said Amy Pooley, El Dorado County Office of Education (EDCOE)’s youth commission advisor. For the past six years, the commission has focused on youth mental health.

Commissioner Emma Lopez, a graduating senior from El Dorado High School, noted, “We have administered an electronic wellness survey to gauge student awareness of available resources and analyzed the results to see how we can make a more significant impact. We also focus on engaging peer to peer through social media and other methods during our annual Wellness Week.”

Fellow Commissioner Lauren Sumimoto, a sophomore at Oak Ridge High School, added, “I have been focused on strengthening community relationships by presenting at multiple organizations, like service clubs and the county board of education, to provide the youth’s perspective on addressing mental health concerns. It’s important to insert student voices where the decisions are made.”

Our 15 school districts, EDCOE and partnering agencies have also made mental health and wellness a top priority in caring for students. Through a strong partnership with Sierra Child & Family Services, wellness centers are now available at several of our school districts. Students have the ability to obtain resources for help overcoming stress, anxiety, loneliness and more.

In addition, EDCOE recently applied for and received the Mental Health Student Services Act Grant to assist in expanding access to mental health services for children and youth, including countywide student assessments and campus-based mental health services. It will also facilitate community partnerships to better link families to ongoing mental health services.

As we all know, healthy students build strong communities and enjoy brighter futures. Understanding and addressing the mental health needs of our students helps shape healthier, happier and more productive schools. The investment we make in our students is a true investment in the future.

Ed Manansala is the El Dorado County Office of Education superintendent.