The Importance Of School-Based Mental Health Services – Milford-Orange Times
By Jennifer Fiorillo
In the last three years we have seen an emphasis on the need to support mental health services in our schools. This push has been brought about by the spike in trauma, as well as emotional and behavioral issues in children and adolescents throughout the last several years since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although there has been more advocacy for school-based services in the recent past, mental and behavioral health issues in our youth have been prevalent for long before that time.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, one in five children and adolescents experience a mental health problem during their years in school. Some of these issues can include anxiety, depression, coping with bullying, stress and substance use. More severe problems that have been on the rise in the last several years include self-injurious, suicidal and aggressive behaviors.
A report issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2019 outlines that 3.8 million adolescents ages 12-17 reported a major depressive episode in the last year. What’s troubling is that nearly 60 percent of those adolescents did not receive treatment – and out of those who did, two-thirds of them accessed services in the school. The school provides an ideal environment for caring relationships, positive development and intervention, making it more likely that students will access treatment and receive support navigating the system to connect them to appropriate services.
Schools struggle to meet the mental health needs of students, especially as the demand has increased. The National Association of Social Workers recommends a ratio of 250 students for each social worker. In 2022, this ratio was one social worker for every 580 students. The recommended ratio for school psychologists is one for every 500 students. This number can get as high as one to 5,000 in some states. The shortage of staff in schools to address mental health issues is concerning given that the school setting is a place where it is more likely kids will access treatment.
Developing partnerships with community-based provider organizations has been one strategy that schools have used to better manage the increase in need and complex emotional and behavioral issues that children and adolescents are experiencing. School-based mental health services provide a direct link to clinical expertise for mental health screening and treatment that also allows for more seamless collaboration between school personnel, parents and external resources.
As a partner of the West Haven and Milford School systems, Bridges Healthcare will be providing evidenced-based trauma informed treatment to students and training on trauma screening to school personnel through a grant awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Through this funding, a clinician will be available at West Shore Middle School, Johnathon Law High School in Milford, and Carrigan-Intermediate School and West Haven High School in West Haven. A case manager will also be available as part of this initiative to work with the school in supporting students and families in navigating the service system. Bridges is very excited to be partnering with these schools to meet students where they are and reduce barriers to care.
Jennifer Fiorillo, MBA, MPH is the president and CEO of Bridges Healthcare in Milford, and may be reached at Jfiorillo@bridgesmilford.org.