Work Sample

 

Context

In my Public Policy class during the fall, 2020 semester, I focused on mental health. Below you will find a copy of my policy memo that I wrote on the topic of mental health for that class.

To: United States Department of Education

From: Robert Roseman

Subject: Implement Comprehensive Mental Health Education in Schools Nationwide

Date: 17 October 2020

Introduction

Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst people ages 10-34 in the United States. The mental health crisis that has been brewing in our nation for decades is reaching a breaking point. Over the course of the past two decades, the rate of suicides in the United States has risen at an alarming rate. The only way to curb this frightening pandemic that our nation is facing is to institute comprehensive mental health education in every school across the country. Comprehensive mental health education would decrease the stigma associated with mental health while training students and educators alike to notice the warning signs associated with mental health crises and challenges. The Department of Education must ensure that mental health education is a priority in our educational institutions. 

Rapidly Rising Rates of Mental Health Crises in the United States

Across the United States, the rates of suicide have been increasing dramatically over the past twenty years. Focusing on the twelve-year span of 2006-2018, the suicide rate increased by 2.1% per year. Simultaneously, the suicide rate rose from 10.5 per 100,000 U.S. standard population in 1999 to 14.2 in 2018. At the same time that rates of mental health concerns are rising in the United States, 75% of schools reported that inadequate funding limited schools’ abilities to provide mental health services to students. In addition, 64% of schools reported that inadequate access to licensed mental health providers limited schools’ abilities to provide mental health services to students as well.

The Department of Education has begun to provide limited resources to school districts in order to expand its mental health services. In 2019, the Department of Education created the Mental Health Demonstration Grant program which awarded $11 million to 27 state education authorities in order to provide more funding for school-based mental health providers. While the distribution of this money can provide more mental health resources to a few localities, it does not provide anywhere near sufficient resources to tackle this nationwide crisis. 

Since children in the United States are not receiving the mental health education and support that they need early enough, the crisis continues to affect individuals well into college and young-adulthood. The burden of mental health education and intervention is being shifted from local schools to colleges, universities, and even the criminal justice system. Colleges and universities are facing students with undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions. Between 1992 and 2002, visits to the counseling center at 11 large Midwestern universities had risen 42%. Colleges and universities are not the only institutions being confronted with large populations of people who are dealing with undiagnosed and untreated mental health concerns, though. Studies have shown that up to 70% of youth in the criminal justice system have mental disorders. Local schools are failing our young people and forcing other institutions and systems to treat people with mental disorders. 

Methods to Infuse Mental Health Education in Schools

Schools must infuse mental health education amongst the educators themselves, the students, and community partners. There are three primary ways that schools should disseminate mental health education. Through the implementation of Mental Health First Aid programs, the Hope Squad, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, schools will be able to more effectively address mental health concerns. These programs have been shown to be effective in educating students and teachers as well as in minimizing the rate of mental health concerns. In addition to the benefits that these programs have for educators and students, they also bring together community mental health organizations to share expertise and participate in these critical advancements. 

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a relatively new training that provides teachers and educators with the knowledge to be able to effectively provide front-line, temporary support to students who have shown signs of mental health struggles. The Rand Health Quarterly provides significant insights into the promising success that Mental Health First Aid can have. In a review of a number of different studies of Mental Health First Aid, the authors found that “MHFA appears to be useful in improving mental health knowledge and reducing stigma across most target populations.” They also recognized that MHFA was “associated with self-reported increases in providing help to others with mental health needs.” While there are limitations with the efficacy of this program in regards to ethnic minority groups, when used in conjunction with other mental health education programs this program can help to minimize stigma and increase recognition of mental health concerns. 

In addition to educators being trained in Mental Health First Aid, students must have access to positive peer role models. The most effective way to institute this is through the implementation of Hope Squad programs in schools. An article in the journal Children & Schools provides statistically significant evidence that Hope Squad programs achieve positive outcomes in the schools that they have been implemented in. The conclusions that they made were that Hope Squad programs improve “self-efficacy in crisis response and increases knowledge of how to help a suicidal peer and understanding of resources that help a suicidal peer.” Implementing Hope Squad programs at all levels of schooling can lead to better mental health outcomes not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term mental well-being of the participants. 

The other program that must be instituted nationwide is that of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). PBIS is a program that trains educators on ways to alter the educational setting through different disciplinary policies and positive reinforcement measures. These policies create positive change in educators which leads to increased positive actions by the students as well. A three-year randomized trial of PBIS policies shows promising student results. Their findings show that Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is associated “with improvements in students’ perceptions of safety at school, an increase in third-grade reading performance, and reductions in office disciplinary referrals.” Such improvements led to a “significant reduction in students’ need for and use of school based counseling services.” Effective disciplinary policies along with positive reinforcements through the implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports leads to better mental health outcomes of students. 

Conclusion

At a time when mental health crises in our nation are continually rising at increasingly alarming rates, action must be taken. Comprehensive mental health education is the most effective and efficient way to promote positive mental health outcomes and erase the stigma that derives from mental health challenges. The lack of attention that mental health education gets in the American school system leads to long-term negative consequences for students’ well being. The way to address this problem is through mental health education. The Department of Education must make mental health education a priority. The education systems in the United States are designed to prepare students for their futures. When students are facing unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated mental health challenges, they are unable to effectively learn and prepare for their futures. 

Monetary resources must be directed to programs such as Mental health First Aid, Hope Squad, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Research on these policies must be pursued to gain a better understanding of the benefits that programs like these can have. Nationwide, there must be a mandate for mental health education and awareness to be discussed in public schools. To appropriately address the mental health epidemic that our nation is facing, attention must be directed to educating our teachers and students on warning signs of suicidality and interventions that can be implemented to decrease the rate of suicides in our nation. If our students are our future, shouldn’t we ensure that they have the tools needed to be successful?

 

PDF Version: Mental Health Policy Memo 

 

Context

In my Comparative Politics class during the spring, 2020 semester, I focused on social capital and resistance in Venezuela. Below you will find a copy of the paper that I wrote for that assignment.

 

What Led to Social Capital and Widespread Resistance in Venezuela?

Over the past ten years, Venezuela has faced immense pressure from resistance organizations and social groups to increase political opportunities and shift the political atmosphere of the nation. There was a breaking point in this time frame in which there was a shift from passive action to widespread protests and violence. Using Tarrow’s article as a foundation, I will analyze the point at which the citizens of Venezuela decided that it was an appropriate time to mobilize and take systematic action. I will look at the economic situation in Venezuela as well as the Core Civil Society Index. 

To understand the political environment in Venezuela, I will provide a brief overview of the recent history of the nation. Two of the most important aspects to understand are the contests for the presidency as well as the wealth of oil in the region. President Hugo Chavez was the leader of Venezuela for nearly fifteen years. He created a legacy of social welfare and was incredibly popular among the poor citizens of Venezuela. Prior to his death, he tapped Nicolas Maduro to become the next president. President Maduro quickly consolidated all of the power under the presidency. Along came a thirty-five-year-old political outsider named Juan Guaido. Guaido claimed that Maduro’s presidency was not supported by the constitution and that he was in fact the president. This is the crux of the political issue in Venezuela. At the same time that this was occurring, the oil wealth in the nation was also evaporating and causing higher levels of unemployment and more social unrest (Specia, 2019). 

The situation in Venezuela combined all of the aspects that Sidney Tarrow outlined in his book titled Power in Movement. In his book, he describes the necessary aspects to having a successful political movement. The primary aspects that Tarrow focuses on are regime change, opportunity, and threat. Venezuela, beginning in 2014, started to have all of these aspects and exhibited the prime opportunity for rebellion and action (Tarrow, 2011). With the death of the long-standing president, there was a regime change that took effect. The threat of consolidation of power under the presidency led to rage over the lack of distribution of power. Finally, with increasing poverty, there was more opportunity for citizens to protest and want more of the wealth to be distributed to them as well. In the following graph, you will see the Core Civil Society Index for Venezuela. As is shown in this graph, there is a decline in the Core Civil Society Index. This index shows the ability for citizens to freely demonstrate and pursue their political and civic goals. The graph shows the decline in the index meaning that citizens did not feel as though there was much ability to express their civic or political beliefs. Such a limit on their abilities to organize is one of the factors that led to the discontent among citizens of Venezuela. 

(V-Dem, 2019)

Along with the limitations on political activity in Venezuela, the economic situation was becoming direr. The model that I looked at to explain the economic situation was the poverty rate. Beginning around 2012, the poverty rate began to rise. This coincided with the death of Chavez. With many citizens losing their job and going into worse economic situations, they became more upset with the current systems. The poverty rate can also be an indicator of the unemployment rate. Unemployed citizens have a greater ability to spend time protesting and are typically more willing to protest as well. Below you will find the graph of the poverty rate in Venezuela. 

(World Bank, 2019)

The decreasing ability to legally organize and increasing poverty rate helped to lead to the protests that were seen in Venezuela. When Guaido announced that he would be the interim president and tens of thousands of protestors rushed to the streets, all of the pent up energy finally hit the breaking point. When the protests erupted, the protesters were met with counter-protesters and armed military. As Tarrow discusses in his paper, the military and control that was exercised over the protesters was utilized to create a sense of control and demonstrate that the Maduro government was in charge. The protesters, led by Guaido, still felt as though they had an opportunity and that this was the optimal time to continue to protest and attempt to gain power in the government. Even when outside nations and states came out in support of Guaido and the protesters, the experience in the nation itself did not change. So long as the military continued to support Maduro, the Maduro government could remain in control. While other states may allow some protest in order to give off the resemblance of freedoms, Venezuela never allowed its citizens to openly and freely protest. 

The situation in Venezuela will continue to be dire. Neither side, the Maduro camp or the Guaido camp, are likely to concede any of their supposed power which will lead to continued violence and fighting in the country. With the military supporting Maduro and the public supporting Guaido, there will continue to be fighting between these two groups. On top of that, the economic situation will not begin to shift in a positive direction because the majority of democratic nations around the world do not support the current leadership and favor Guaido instead. The lack of international support and sanctions on Venezuelan goods makes it very difficult for the economic situation to begin to shift. One of the only ways that the protests could end is through the use of concessions. As Tarrow discusses, when the regime in charge begins to give minor concessions to the protesters, the protests may begin to end. These concessions would most likely not be genuine and would rather be just for show, but no matter the intent of the concessions they would have the same effect. Citizens of Venezuela would feel empowered once again and slowly begin to shift their support from Guaido to Maduro and in turn, end the protests. The other necessary aspect to end the protests is to slow the progression of inflation and put more money into the citizens’ pockets. With an increase in jobs and revenue, citizens would be happier with the government and once again stop protesting. For the Maduro camp, the goal should be to find ways to both give minor concessions and slightly increase the economic situation in the nation. 

Works Cited:

Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population) – Venezuela, RB. (n.d.). 

Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.NAHC?end=2015&locations=VE&start=2000&view=chart

Specia, M. (2019, May 3). Five Things You Need to Know to Understand Venezuela’s Crisis. 

Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/03/world/americas/venezuela-crisis-facts.html

Tarrow, S. G. (2011). Power in movement : Social movements and contentious politics. 

Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from aul on 2020-01-22 13:48:03.

V-Dem. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.v-dem.net/en/analysis/CountryGraph/

 

PDF Version:

Venezuela Comparative Politics