Is Montgomery County handling the mental health crisis?


Graphic courtesy Montgomery County Archives

A graph from the Montgomery County archives shows that Montgomery county (blue) surpassed the state and national average for suicides in the 15 – 24 age category in 2018.

Montgomery County, with one of the leading education systems in the country, is also leading in the number of suicides each year. 

According to the Maryland State government website, Montgomery County has one of the highest average suicide rates every year compared to the rest of the state, despite only accounting for 17% of Maryland’s population. More recently, heads have been turning since the Montgomery County website issued a press release detailing that since 2010, the county’s suicide rates have increased by 63%. This was especially concerning considering the rest of the state has only increased by 23% and the United States by 17%. This press release was published in September 2020 and also noted that between July 1 and Aug. 15, Montgomery county had 400 hospitalizations due to self harm.

This major increase in self harm made suicide the 11th leading cause of death in the state of Maryland as well as the third leading cause of death in citizens ages 15 – 24. These statistics have only continued to increase with the return to “normal life” after quarantine isolation. More specifically, since the return to in-person schooling, teachers across the county have noticed a dramatic change in student behavior and mental health. WTOP news reports that there were 48 reported assaults in Montgomery County public high schools within the first month of school, as well as multiple school shooting threats that have spurred an unprecedented number of lockdowns this year. Teachers at the Montgomery County Board of Education meeting labeled this as a “mental health crisis,” requiring an immediate course of action. 

New to this year is the addition of county-wide wellness lessons held during the advisory period every Wednesday at school. These lessons consist of activities and exercises designed to educate about mental health. 

Junior Madelyn Lee regarded the new lessons during advisory as “Not helpful and not taken seriously. They are kind of forced upon the students and the lessons are repetitive.” Lee said. 

Low attendance rates for that day and the increased concern regarding the neglect of mental health in the Montgomery County Public School system prompted the Board of Education to take more structured measures. When students began skipping the new wellness lessons, administrators began counting the advisory period for attendance. 

Junior Gabby Wright emphasized a need for change in how our school handles mental health. “There aren’t enough counselors for all of the students, not enough awareness, and too much performative support.” She said. 

Junior Ella White agreed as well that school administration could be doing so much more to acknowledge the student’s well being in this school. “Administration could be more involved with the students outside of the mandatory lessons.” White said.

The question still stands over whether Montgomery County is taking the correct measures to address the alarmingly high suicide rate, and whether their priorities align with the well-being of the student population.