Alexandria, VA – As schools prepare for students to return to classrooms next month, a new report released today by Mental Health America finds the overwhelming majority of states are unprepared to address the current youth mental health crisis in schools. The analysis finds that mental health education in schools is only required in a handful of states and most states do not meet recommended ratios for school mental health personnel. It also finds that only 14 states are fully using Medicaid to fund mental health services in schools, a practice that increases accessibility and promotes equity. Of the states that do have policies involving school-based mental health, the report finds those regulations are weak and not fully enforced.
The report, Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis: The Urgent Need for More Education, Services, and Supports, serves as a call to action for policymakers, school administrators, students, and other mental health advocates to address the lack of education, supports, and services in schools, particularly in light of the current national crisis in youth mental health.
Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that the percentage of youth ages 12-17 who reported experiencing a past-year major depressive episode has doubled over the past decade. At the same time, mental health care has been difficult to access, especially for youth of color. COVID-19 only worsened the crisis. From March to October of 2020, CDC data indicates children’s visits to the emergency room for mental health conditions increased significantly.
“The time to implement comprehensive mental health policies in our schools is now. After a year and a half of grief, loss, isolation and loneliness, students need mental health education, supports, and services now more than ever,” said Mary Giliberti, Executive Vice President of Policy at MHA, “While the youth mental health crisis began before the pandemic, COVID-19 exacerbated it and we need to ensure youth are getting the help they need. An important place to reach them is in our schools.”
In addition to outlining the need for more school-based mental health policies, the report also analyzes states that have had success implementing such policies and calls on the federal government to learn from state successes. It notes that school-based mental health services are a critical tool in furthering equity and reducing racial disparities. The report also recommends developing a national strategy for school-based mental health across and within federal agencies by creating specific goals, a data collection process for measuring progress, and a specific implementation plan.
Some of the states it encourages policymakers to look toward include New York, Virginia, Florida, Minnesota, Kansas, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, Utah, and Connecticut.
In addition to calling for a national strategy for school-based mental health, the report also recommends the following:
- Promoting youth leadership at the local, state, and national levels to improve youth mental health in schools;
- Mobilizing more youth across the country to advocate for change;
- Advocating for and achieving more state legislative victories in mental health education, access to services, and mental health excused absences;
- Ensuring follow-up, evaluation, and effective implementation of state legislative victories; and
- Continuing innovation and research on evolving state statutes and programs to improve early intervention in youth mental health, particularly in the areas of screening and peer support.
One of the common keys to success in states that have enacted school-based mental health policies is youth leadership.
“As this report shows, students have led important changes. We often have more power than we realize and simply need more opportunities and knowledge about how to influence government processes. This report fills that gap in education,” said Ben Ballman, a high school student in Potomac, Maryland, and a member of the advisory board consulted on the report.
For students and advocates that are interested in pushing for more mental health education in their local areas, the report also offers a tool that identifies the current mental health education legislation in each state and outlines key lessons from The Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc. (MHANYS), an affiliate of Mental Health America that helped to pass the first law in the nation requiring schools to teach students about mental health.
About Mental Health America
Mental Health America (MHA) is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all. MHA’s work is driven by its commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need them; with recovery as the goal. Learn more at MHAnational.org.