Mental health in schools has become a major topic of conversation in previous years, but recently it’s hit an all-time high. Some districts and lawmakers are aiming to do something to improve their local systems, while abroad, one study calls for a nationwide change.
Miami-Dade sets standards
At the start of this school year, a student with a mild asthma attack stopped by the medical clinic in North Miami High. Here he was able to have his asthma treated and was back in class in more than half an hour, reported the Miami Herald. And then there’s the North Miami-area John F. Kennedy Middle School student who got his teeth painted with cavity-preventing sealant right at the school’s dental trailer.
Seem unusual? According to the Herald, it’s part of the Dr. John T. Macdonald School Health Initiative. This is the name for a network of school-based health clinics located in nine different Miami-Dade public schools. And the Herald noted that school-based health clinics are becoming less unusual.
The Herald reported that more students than ever are depending on these school health clinics for their primary medical care, and as a result, the Miami-Dade initiative has needed to expand in order to keep up with demand. They’re also offering eye and dental care as well, and there’s even psychological services.
At the beginning of the school year, parents can sign a consent form that allows their kids to be seen by clinic staff. It’s that simple. And the benefits are significant: Parents don’t need to leave work, except in the case of medical emergencies, and children stay healthier, which in turn boosts their academic achievement, reported the Herald. The clinics are especially effective at reaching minorities, thereby bridging healthcare disparity gaps. According to the Herald, many of the 12,000 students currently seen in the clinics are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, mostly Haitian or Hispanic.
In 2012, the clinics received a $4 million grant from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services for healthcare innovation. One of the major benefits of this grant has been the program’s ability to expand mental health services.
Mental health and education in Vermont
Many schools in the U.S. have traditionally offered some sort of counseling services, but recently there’s been an emphasis placed on making mental health services more accessible and simultaneously reducing the stigma of mental illness in the classroom. The Miami-Dade initiative is showing a movement in the right direction.
Far north of Miami, Vermont lawmakers are also discussing the growing need for mental health services for children. A 2011 act put in place by Gov. Peter Shumlin decentralized Vermont’s mental health system, attempting to place more emphasis on outpatient care in the wake of the flooding and closure of a major state hospital. However, as Vermont news source VTdigger.org noted, no act existed to help kids with mental health issues find similar assistance.
Part of the issue, according to oversight panel member Rep.Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, is the lack of community programs within children’s mental health services. Others who spoke before the committee called for better localized mental health treatment closer to home.
While not the same as adult mental health outpatient communities, services through schools – as in the Miami-Dade school clinic initiative – are one option that could be explored, especially for low-risk child patients.
Restoring funding in Arizona, and providing checkups overseas
Another initiative, this time in the Southwest, is looking to fix the lack of mental health counselors in public schools. According to Representative Ron Barber, a democrat for the second district of Arizona, school counselors are a vital part of the public school system, and too many have been eliminated in districts needing to make funding cuts to education. According to the San Pedro Valley News-Sun, Barber is currently co-sponsoring a bill to bring back funding for these specialists.
Mental health in schools isn’t only a priority in America, either. The Telegraph, a British paper, recently reported on a British Medical Journal study that recommended all students undergo mental and emotional health exams on a regular basis. Basing its logic on the finding that three-quarters of adult mental illness begin in childhood, the checkups, which would be conducted by school counselors or trained staff, would help identify signs of depression, anxiety, anger and disruptive behavior.