Proposed bill would require all public schools to have mental health break spaces

AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — A bill has been proposed in the General Assembly that would require all public schools to have mental health break spaces in the building.

The counseling office at Fort Defiance High School is currently where students can go to take a mental health break during the school day as well as receive one-on-one counseling. | Credit: WHSV

Katie Crabtree, a school counselor at Fort Defiance High School, said schools in the county already offer a similar space and resources for students to decompress during the school day.

"Students regularly come down to the guidance office for breaks throughout the day, mental health breaks if that's what you want to call it. I think that's probably one of the largest services we provide," Crabtree said.

The guidance office is a place where students can get one-on-one counseling or just come to take a break from the day.

"Talking through whatever the concern is at the time, providing a quiet, safe space for the students to be away from the rest of the population of students," Crabtree said.

Crabtree believes having these spaces is important. She sees multiple students each day who are dealing with relationship or family issues, along with the daily stresses of school itself.

"If they're sad, if they're happy, excited, whatever it might be. This is a space they can come and feel safe and know that whatever information that they want to spill or tell us is going to be kept private," Crabtree said.

Crabtree thinks Augusta County schools are doing a good job at being available and offering services to students who need them, but she said they could improve by having more students and families knowing what resources they can take advantage of.

Many school districts in the commonwealth also do not have the same level of availability of guidance counselors' offices, with counselors in many schools made to spend more time on administrative concerns than counseling students.

While Crabtree believes having these spaces available to students is necessary and beneficial to them, she thinks calling them "designated mental health break spaces" might not be the best option.

"I just think there would be a stigma attached to saying, 'Hey, may I go use the mental health space?' versus more of a blanket, 'May I go see my school counselor,' where I could be talking to her about a whole variety of things," Crabtree said.

If the bill is passed, the Virginia Board of Education will partner with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to create regulations for each space in terms of design, staffing and student use.