School Behavioral Health Initiative
Harris County currently is home to approximately 525,761 children ages 9-17.[i] National prevalence estimates indicate that 20%, or about 105,152, of these children have a mental illness or addictive disorder that causes at least some level of functional impairment.[ii] At least 5%, or 26,288, have a Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED) that results in significant functional impairments that can affect both home and school activities.[iii]
About half of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14, making these illnesses “the chronic disorders of [the] young.”[iv] Youths with behavioral health issues may experience challenges such as academic underachievement, criminal justice involvement and even suicide. In fact, “more than one-quarter of the total costs for mental health treatment services among adolescents were incurred in the education and juvenile justice systems.”[v]
Due to recent national tragedies, renewed attention has been given to the importance of meeting the behavioral health (mental health and substance abuse) needs of children and youths. In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, almost 200 national organizations, including the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and National Association of State Boards of Education, have called for “a balanced approach to preventing violence and protecting students,” including “programs that support the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students.”[vi] Because a significant portion of a child’s time is spent at school, schools provide a “captive” audience for the initiation of these interventions.
However, many schools have struggled to meet the behavioral health needs of their students for a number of reasons. A survey of seven school-based mental health care sites in Texas found that counselors face difficulties in providing appropriate levels of mental health services to students; teachers lack experience in recognizing early signs of mental health issues and oftentimes cannot identify available services in the community; and financial constraints keep many schools from adequately meeting the needs of students with mental health problems who are not eligible for services under federal law.[vii] A report by the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership noted that schools also face “immense pressure to focus on external accountability and test scores”.[viii]
Harris County School Behavioral Health Initiative
In order to help school districts better address these issues, Mental Health America of Greater Houston (MHA) led the Harris County School Behavioral Health Initiative, a year-long, community-wide initiative aimed at ensuring students are identified early and able to receive needed services. The initiative convened school district personnel, behavioral health providers, child-serving and education-related agencies, and parents to develop recommendations to improve the prevention, identification, and treatment of behavioral health issues among students.
To view the recommendations and full report, click here.
For more information, contact Andrea Usanga, Director of Policy and Government Relations at email@example.com.
[i] Texas Data Center. (2008) 2008 Population Projections by Single Years of Age (Table 2) by County. Retrieved from http://txsdc.utsa.edu/Data/TPEPP/Projections/2008/DownloadCountySingleYear.aspx
[ii] US Surgeon General (1999) Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/home.html
[iv] Kessler, R.C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K.R., and Walters, E.E. (2005). “Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.
[v] Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People: Progress and Possibilities.
National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse Am16ong Children, Youth, and Young Adults: Research Advances and Promising Interventions; Edited by Mary Ellen O'Connell, Thomas Boat, and Kenneth E Warner. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009;
[vi] A Call for More Effective Prevention of Violence. From http://curry.virginia.edu/articles/sandyhookshooting
[vii] Texas Department of State Health Services. A collaborative effort of: Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Texas Education Agency, Texas Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, Mental Health Association in Texas. (2003). Back to School: Advancing School Based Mental Health Care in Texas. Retrieved from www.dshs.state.tx.us/mhservices/pd/statePlanExecutiveSummary
[viii] Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership. Guidelines for School-Community Partnerships: Addressing the Unmet Mental Health Needs of School Age Children. Retrieved from http://www.icmhp.org/icmhpproducts/images_user/Guidelines.SH.draft9.17.07.pdf