A Call for State Action to Address the Youth Mental Health Crisis

October 24, 2022 | Written By:

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

New policy recommendations call on state government leaders to recognize the urgency of the youth mental health crisis and the role state agencies can play in addressing student mental health needs. 

State Policy Opportunities: Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems to Support Students,” developed by Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and Mental Health America (MHA), identifies 24 opportunities plus sub-recommendations for states to integrate mental health services within school settings — and to encourage school-community collaborations to provide a continuum of mental health services. 

The specific recommendations, and the numerous state examples and resources provided, focus on how each state’s governor and legislators, as well as agency directors such as the chief state school officer, state secretary of health and human services and state Medicaid director, can design and implement effective school strategies.

“By acting on the recommendations in this report, state policymakers have the opportunity to turn the tide on the children’s mental health crisis,” said Schroeder Stribling, president and CEO of MHA. “The policy changes outlined will also better support teachers, parents and the other caring adults in children’s lives.”

“Addressing the mental health crisis among youth is a national imperative,” said Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of HSC, which recently held a forum for national leaders from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office and the U.S. Department of Education to hear and respond to successful state and local efforts to address student mental health.

“Our goal is to increase states’ understanding of the importance of working across multiple invested agencies and partners, and the opportunities that exist to help school districts build support from needed partners,” said Davis. “Together these efforts can help ensure all students have equitable access to the conditions and supports needed for social and emotional wellbeing.”

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It’s the ideal time for states to move forward with these policy recommendations, said Davis, given the recent influx of federal funding directed at states and school districts.

For example, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will invest an additional $1 billion over the next five years in school mental health supports. States can use some of this funding to expand and diversify their mental health and substance use workforce — key recommendations highlighted in the report. In addition, states can leverage school Medicaid grants to support changes to Medicaid eligibility and adequate reimbursement for a full network of school mental health and substance use providers and services.

Other topics covered in the recommendations include building connections with families, improving school staff training, and increasing data sharing and telehealth capacity. 

“We’re proud to be partnering with HSC and MHA to disseminate these recommendations, which provide state leaders with clear, actionable steps to help every student have access to the school mental health supports they need to thrive,” said Bill Smith, founder and president of Inseparable. “Earlier this year, the Hopeful Futures Campaign launched ‘America’s School Mental Health Report Card,’ which showed how far states have to go to address the national crisis in youth mental health.”

Experts in the fields of education, health, substance use, parent and family partnership, racial equity, and other related areas helped to inform these policy opportunities, representing many organizations, including: AASA, The School Superintendents Association; Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; Center for Law and Social Policy; Center for the Study of Social Policy; Council of Chief State School Officers; First Focus on Children; National Association of School Psychologists; and University of Maryland School of Medicine, National Center for School Mental Health.

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