Academic stress tops the list of reasons Palo Alto teens have sought on-campus mental health counseling in the current academic year, according to a summary by a counseling agency.
Other top student concerns this year are peer relationships, anxiety, depression, divorce/single parents, family communication and anger management, according to Roni J. Gillenson, director of on-campus counseling for the nonprofit Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS).
More than 260 high school students and nearly 160 middle school students so far have sought help from psychological counselors in Palo Alto schools, resulting in more than 2,200 sessions with the students and their family members, Gillenson said.
Of the Palo Alto students who have sought on-campus assistance, 61 percent are female and 39 percent male, she said.
Adolescent Counseling Services works with school guidance counselors and administrators to offer free counseling on eight campuses, including all five of Palo Alto's secondary schools.
Gillenson presented the Palo Alto campus data Thursday to about 40 people attending a monthly public meeting of the multi-agency coalition Project Safety Net.
The coalition, which includes an array of community groups as well as the Palo Alto Unified School District and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, formed in response to a series of Palo Alto student suicides in 2009 and 2010.
"We're seeing this year a lot more walk-ins and more students pulling their friends in for counseling," Gillenson said.
Though the counseling is confidential, Gillenson said ACS works closely with school officials.
For example, if a student confides to a counselor that they are distressed because their parents are divorcing, a counselor might suggest, "'You're not showing up to class and they don't know your parents are going through a divorce. Would it be OK to tell them (the school) this?'" Gillenson said.
ACS operates with more than 30 graduate-student interns, including 19 devoted to Palo Alto schools, who are supervised by professional therapists, she said.
Each high school campus has five interns and each middle school campus has three interns. Each intern has a caseload of eight to 12 students, Gillenson said.
So far this year, ACS counselors have seen 134 students at Palo Alto High School; 130 students at Gunn High School; 42 students at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School; 81 students at Jordan Middle School and 35 students at Terman Middle School, she said.
In addition to on-campus counseling, ACS offers after-school counseling, adolescent substance abuse treatment and community education.