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California: Legislature ok's $50M for in-school mental health services for students

Aug 2, 2019, Palo Alto (CA) Online: State launches $50M program for school-based mental health The California State Legislature is calling on local school districts to come up with new ways to fill big gaps in mental health care for children and teens, setting aside $50 million this year for schools willing to try new ways of detecting and preventing mental illness through campus-based services.

The Mental Health Student Services Act, established through budget legislation this year, launches a grant program where county behavioral health departments — largely responsible for publicly funded mental health care — can partner with local schools to create campus-based mental health services. The goal is to reach students before mental illness becomes severe and disabling, preventing suicide, dropouts, homelessness and suffering.

The act builds on a common trend among California lawmakers, who have sought over the last three years to migrate the role of mental health care from the clinic to the classroom. Services provided on campus could serve as the first line of defense, with the potential to detect mental health conditions long before they worsen. Studies have found that close to half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, rising to three-fourths by age 24.

Santa Clara County Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan said she is prepared to pursue the funding. The shift toward school-based mental health has been driven by school leaders and school board members who understand the increasing need for student services, she said. A child's wellness affects how well they perform in school, she said, and many schools have already launched in-house mental health initiatives. …

… There were many conversations with teachers, said Ewing, who urged the state to support more mental health care in schools. …

It may seem unusual for school districts to lead the way on health care services better suited for a clinic, but Ewing said there's been increasing recognition from a broad range of school staff — from teachers to principals to superintendents — that schools have a role to play in mental health. California schools have long provided mental health care in a limited capacity through special education funding, but the growing consensus is that it's not enough.

"Often times there are kids who would benefit from and need mental health services where special education is not the right strategy," he said.

National studies have found that about one in five children have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder, but only about 20% of those children actually receive care from a mental health provider. The delay in receiving treatment often spans six to eight years for mood disorders and nine to 23 years for anxiety disorders, with longer delays for males, minorities and lower-educated patients….

When asked whether the added responsibility of providing mental health care could become a burden on public schools, Dewan said she believes schools can balance mental and behavioral services on top of academics — so long as they receive adequate funding and trained, qualified staff. The real and immediate problem is that kids aren't getting the health care they need to be successful.

"The risk that we see now is that children in our schools need support, and the lack of support is impacting their educational progress," she said. ---

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