School Based Mental Health

According to the CDC, approximately 20% of children and youth suffer from a mental health disorder. Only about 1/3 of those children and youth will receive an appropriate diagnosis and effective treatment. Minority children are even less likely to receive mental health services. Untreated mental health disorders result in a number of serious issues, including poor academic outcomes, increased dropout rates, suicide, substance abuse and unemployment as adults.  

Due to significant barriers to care in the community, schools are the ideal setting in which to provide mental health services. School communities are aware of cultural and environmental factors impacting their student body. Every community has a school in which most children spend at least six hours per day, facilitating improved access to care. School-employed professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses, are best positioned to know the students, parents, and teachers. The school environment is frequently one of security and safety for students struggling with mental illness. Inner-city students were 21 times more likely to seek mental health services in school than in a community health center.

In New Jersey, school-based services have existed since the 1980s and are often the primary source of mental health providers for the thousands of youths they serve. These school-based services are especially critical for those who cannot afford or do not have access to outside services.

NJPA supports school based mental health services which should include:

  1. Education/Prevention: Mental health education should be included in the curriculum of school aged children and adolescents. This should include age appropriate educational activities to address important concepts such as depression and substance use disorders. 
  • Screening: Evidence based screening tools should be used to assess at-risk children and adolescents.
  • Treatment: School based services should abide by all mandates for confidentiality, and include collaboration between teachers, guidance counselors, school based mental health professionals, and families. School based mental health professionals should provide initial evaluation and short-term treatment. These services should be included in the student’s initial care plan and provided on-site whenever possible. For follow-up care, a clear process for connecting students to the necessary comprehensive mental health services must be identified. This follow-up can be accomplished through referring to a child psychiatrist, a pediatric practice with a collaborating child psychiatrist, or a community mental health center.

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