Funding for counseling introduces new position

There has been an ongoing initiative to put more money into resources for students’ mental health. That mission has been in the works for many years, but a recent donation from an anonymous donor of 1 million dollars dedicated entirely to mental health has resulted in a new wellness coordinator position being created at the high school. The position will be filled by Lauren Ahlers. The money will also be put towards other resources, though the details on what resources have yet to be released. 

The million-dollar donation was the largest to ever be gifted to the East Grand Rapids School Foundation. It was dedicated in honor of Francis “Tallie” Frey. Frey was a student at EGR in the 1920s. She and her husband Ed Frey founded the Frey Foundation, and they were dedicated to philanthropy and a love of their community their whole lives. The Frey Foundation is still run by the next generations of their family. 

The donation will go into a fund called the “Mental Health and Wellness Fund,” which has continued to garner huge support from the community. Two more donors donated $50,000 each in Dec., as well as many other small donations towards the fund. 

Data from the CDC shows that depression and anxiety have increased significantly over time, with 5.4% of children aged 6-17 being diagnosed in 2005, to 13.4% diagnosed in 2020. In 2018, 36.7% of kids aged 6-17 had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. 

Mental health is an ever more present issue that affects so many students today, which is why EGR is more committed to mental health than ever before. In June of 2022, the EGR School Foundation made a $750,000 pledge to support mental health at all schools. 

Using that money and other donations, the school hired a second social worker and the wellness coordinator position mentioned above. There is also ongoing training for teachers, to equip them with the tools they need to support their students. 

There is hope that all of the tools, training, donating, and hiring going on will help students deal with not only mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and ADHD but burnout, lack of motivation/energy, hopelessness, being overwhelmed, and low self-esteem, which can all lead to mental health problems if ignored. 

50% of all lifetime mental health illnesses begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. This is why mental health resources in schools are being proven most useful, as most mental illnesses begin in a person’s youth. The earlier they are diagnosed and treated, the better. Psychologists reported that they saw an increase in severity in the symptoms of mental illnesses in patients throughout 2022, as well as an overall increase in mental illnesses over the past decade. 

EGR schools haven’t yet revealed how they plan on giving students access to resources related to mental health, but it’s been seen that having easy access to help allows for early identification and treatment of mental health issues, and may be linked to reduced absenteeism, which the school has been trying to combat this semester with its new attendance policy. 

Many schools are not equipped with the time, resources, or training necessary to give students’ mental health the attention it needs. But with the combination of two new mental health positions added, training for teachers, and new resources and money, students will be equipped with the tools they need to succeed at the EGR schools.