MENTAL HEALTH IN SCHOOLS
ARIZONA PEER & FAMILY COALITION POSITION STATEMENT
The Arizona Peer & Family Coalition (APFC) supports suicide prevention and access to crisis care and prevention and early intervention for children, youth, and young adults. We support an increase in school based mental health services. We support the identification and allocation of additional funding to support a full range of preventative services for youth, young adults, adults and families with mental health and substance use challenges within Arizona’s schools.
The APFC was established in 2009 with a mission of advocating for, connecting, promoting, and developing leadership by peers and family members throughout our state. Today, the APFC has approximately 180 members located throughout the state and represents the perspectives of individuals and family members who have first-hand lived experience navigating the publicly funded behavioral health system for themselves or on behalf of a loved one with mental illness. The APFC educates our law makers to influence policy, while participating in community organizing and civic leadership efforts. We want to be part of the solution and are available to participate in systems change work.
MENTAL HEALTH AND YOUTH
According to the 2022 State of Mental Health in America Report (Mental Health America, 2021), here are a few facts that we should pay attention to:
- Arizona ranks 49th in the U.S., indicating higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care. Arizona also ranks 49th in the U.S. with regards to youth, indicating that youth have a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care.
- Nationally, students of color disproportionally access their mental health care at school. Also, 10.6% or over 2.5 million youth in the U.S. have severe major depression. The rate was highest among youth who identify as more than one race, at 14.5%. In addition, over 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment.
MENTAL HEALTH in the schools
School based mental health services are crucial for our children, youth and young adults. Early identification and effective treatment for youth, young adults and their families can make a difference in their lives. In addition, students of color often do not have access to specialty mental health services, thus they often access their mental health care at school. Increasing access to school based mental health services can reduce disparities and increase equity in access to care. Studies have shown the value of developing comprehensive school mental health programs in helping students achieve academically and have access to experiences that build social skills, leadership, self-awareness, and caring connections to adults in their school and community (Durlak, et al, 2011). Schools that collaborate with community partners have found to significantly improve schoolwide truancy (Yeide, Kobrin, 2009) and discipline rates, increase the rates of high school graduation, and help create a positive school environment in which a student can learn and be successful in school and in the community (National Council for Community Behavioral Health, 2011).
- Schools should identify long-term financial support to build a school infrastructure that includes implementing mental health education, increasing the number of mental health providers, increasing community connection and collaboration and identifying processes and supports for screening and treating students.
- We recommend an expansion of school based mental health services, which includes mental health education and social-emotional learning be provided to all students, teacher, staff and parents. Education should include information about stigma, recovery and normalizing mental health; and should be driven by the needs of the students and their families. Senate Bill 1376 requires mental health instruction within our schools.
- Schools must be able to respond when students and families reach for help, thus they need mental health professionals (including therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, peer support and family support providers) who can provide intervention and coordinate care. Schools should also seek to improve the safety net for our families by addressing the social determinants of health that may trigger the emergence of mental health problems.
- We recommend early identification for Individualized Education Plan (IEPs) so students can get the services, accommodations and supports needed for a good education. Note: In 2018-2019, 10.6% of youth had severe major depressive episode, yet less than 1% were identified for an IEP.
- We recommend that school districts and policymakers think beyond the idea that if we have a formal referral pathway from school to mental health provider, that we have enough. To really move the needle, we need a community approach that augments and drives those referrals, and gives kids and families options when the traditional mental health referral isn’t a good fit. Such services may include referrals to family-run and peer run organizations. This recommendation will also assist in the current workforce shortage.
- We recommend that all principals and other school administrators reference the Behavioral Health Resource Guide, developed by the Arizona Department of Education and the Arizona Health Cost Containment System. This resource guide information on mental health, the role of mental health professionals on a school campus, considerations for collaboration, integrating services, relevant statutes for schools as well as policy and MOU samples for schools to access.