Mental Health's Effect on Children's Success in School

Celia Miranda is a single mother of four. Her youngest, Christopher, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at 6 years old.

“He had a lot of issues going on. He had problems sitting still, and I couldn't explain it,” Miranda said. “I was at the end of my rope.”

By middle school, Christopher developed anxiety and depression.

“He would just shut down, and I went from being just mom to mom and dad and best friend and counselor, and I couldn't do all those things,” Miranda said. “I wasn't doing a good enough job – at least it didn't feel like it. I just didn't have the knowledge of what to do.”

Miranda isn’t alone. An Austin Independent School District study found 18 percent of high schoolers continuously miss school because they feel too sad or depressed.

“Only a small percentage of those kids will actually seek therapy, so we really need the buy-in from teachers, nurses, physicians, those people that see kids every day,” Seanna Crosbie with the Austin Child Guidance Center said.

Tiffany Gonzalez with Bluebonnet Trails, which provides health services, says the school is a good first place to start.

“The school has a lot of resources. They have counselors on staff. They usually have practitioners, nurses that can route you in the right direction,” she said.

United Way’s Young Leaders Society is just one of the groups that works specifically with middle schoolers. By getting involved early, they hope to improve graduation rates in lower-income areas of Austin and Manor.

“It really gives them an outlet, No. 1, and it breaks down a lot of barriers they have in going to teachers for help. A lot of times students will draw into themselves,” Keith Richardson with the United Way for Greater Austin said. “If there's a problem at home, they're going to get quiet, they internalize a lot of it and it affects their school work, their social work, their skills. It affects kind of everything that they do.”

Miranda says programs like these helped her son find solid ground, helping him not just mentally but academically as well. In just a year, Christopher went from F’s to earning a spot on the honor roll.

“He was given a gift that he didn’t have before, and that's hopes, dreams,” Miranda said. “He's encouraged, he wants to go to high school, do his four years of junior ROTC and he wants to be a cop, which I'm totally encouraging.”

United Way's Young Leaders Society serves Austin's Webb and Mendez middle schools as well as Decker Middle School in Manor.

Dozens of other agencies in Central Texas work specifically to help children overcome mental health challenges. For more information on those resources, visit TraumaTexas.com.