I will never forget the conversation I had with the mother of a dyslexic elementary school child who struggled with being a part of a classroom that was not conducive to her accessibility needs. What struck me about the conversation had less to do with curriculum or learning outcomes and more to do with the emotional state of her child. A girl who was once considered highly creative, funny, and outgoing began to struggle with serious anxiety and no longer wanted to get out of bed in the morning, retreating into a much quieter, closed version of herself.
I imagine this story represents only one example, one child in the whole of the data set recently shared by Corey A. DeAngelis and Angela Dills in their study on the effects of school choice and mental health. Based on their research, there were two important takeaways:
1. PRIVATE SCHOOLING = LESS MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES:
“Controlling for a post-baseline measure of mental health and a variety of individual characteristics, the estimates suggest that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.”
2. MORE SCHOOL CHOICE = DECLINE IN ADOLESCENT SUICIDES
“First, we use difference-in-differences [a statistical technique] to estimate the effects of state voucher and charter school laws on adolescent suicide rates. States adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides” (brackets mine).
Can you believe it? Based on these results, allowing parents to find the safest and most conducive settings for their children can significantly improve adolescent mental health. Moreover, this study is not the first research to connect school environment with mental health. Previous research in Pediatrics showed related correlations to school attendance and mental health. Researchers reported suicidal thoughts and actions among school-age children decline during the summer and spike during the school year, a pattern that is opposite for adults who see a spike during summer months.
School matters to children, and it significantly impacts their lives. The 2017 CDC Report found that the suicide rate of boys ages 15-19 increased by 31% between 2007 and 2015, and the suicide rate for girls in the same age range doubled. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for US residents ages 15-34, and it is the third leading cause of death for children ages 10-14.
These shocking statistics are a reminder of how serious the mental health crisis is in the US, and how important it is to take every step possible towards aiding communities in improving mental health. In other words, don’t take this study lightly. With these results strongly supporting a causal link between school choice programs and improved mental health, consider how a school choice program might affect your community. Educate yourself on what’s available in your area, and talk with city council members and state representatives about how to broaden school choice and work to improve the mental health conditions of children in your community.