Offering mental health services directly to students on campus is the focus of school-based student mental health care.

Why schools are a natural setting for mental health support

Raising awareness of mental health and offering mental health services directly to students on campus is the focus of school-based mental health care

Children in America are in crisis–struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues at unprecedented levels. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist for the Behavioral Health Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, I have had a first-hand look at the increasing numbers of youth struggling with mental health.  

From losses and disruptions caused by the pandemic to increases in gun violence and school shootings to social injustices, children are inundated with messaging across many platforms that negatively impacts their mental health. 

In response to the influx of mental health cases, the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a national emergency and the U.S. Surgeon General has issued a public health advisory. Over 60 percent of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment. Even in states with the greatest access, nearly 1 in 3 are going without treatment. 

Louisiana ranks 49th in child well-being and 62.5 percent of youth diagnosed with major depression did not receive mental health services.  

To support a child’s mental health, we need to meet them where they are — at school. 

Barriers to mental health care 

Prior to COVID-19, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1 in 5 children suffered from mental illness. Data from 2021 indicates that number jumped to 37.1 percent. Yet, only about 20 percent of these children received care from a mental health provider. Access to these mental health services is quite limited for various reasons. 

Some families live in communities where they are unable to find mental health care due to the lack of providers in their area. Other families, particularly those in minority and low-income households, encounter financial and transportation barriers, making it more difficult for them to access mental health services. To tap into these services, they must travel far or be placed on long waitlists to receive care. 

Alongside these barriers, stigma associated with mental health remains pervasive – and this is especially apparent in minority communities. According to the American Psychiatric Association, African Americans, Hispanic, and Latinx communities endorse significant depressive and anxiety related symptoms, and their suicide risk is gradually increasing over time. Studies show when students of color are treated in the medical system, they may experience discrimination, judgment, and implicit or explicit bias. As we work with minority communities, it is important for us to look back to where the distrust is coming from, and re-establish trust by remaining curious and collaborative, remove barriers, and ensure they have access to equitable care.

Creating a school culture of mental health awareness 

When putting the pieces together to create the overall picture of a robust, school-based mental health program, another big component is the educational and training piece for school staff. 

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