Commentary Offers Five Specific Suggestions for State Policymakers to Improve School Mental Health Services

March 28, 2022

By Kelly Jordan

The state of the nation’s mental health—particularly among America’s youth—is a major public health crisis that has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a tumultuous racial and political climate. Emphasizing the urgency of the issue, in October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association joined together to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health. A joint statement authored by the three organizations reported the steady rise in child mental health concerns and suicide rates between 2010 and 2020, and noted that for 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. Among other recommendations, the statement articulated multiple action items policymakers and child advocates can take to improve mental health services in schools. 

Recognizing the ongoing youth mental health crisis, Rollins researchers, Janet R. Cummings, PhD, and Adam S. Wilk, PhD, recently authored a commentary in JAMA Pediatrics that offers state legislators strategies for improving child mental health programs and services in school settings. The article outlines five specific suggestions—as well as examples of effective mental health actions taken by states in the Southeastern U.S.—that can assist in improving mental health programs and services in schools. 

These actions include encouraging school districts to develop and implement school mental health plans, training school personnel in mental health literacy, implementing a social-emotional learning curriculum in schools, standardizing memoranda of understanding between school systems and community mental health providers to expand access to clinical services, and investing in the recruitment and retention of youth mental health providers.

Improving youth mental health services in schools is an issue that has seen bipartisan support, and even incremental change could reap lasting benefits for a healthier youth population.  “Most youth with mental health needs do not receive adequate care” says Cummings. “The strategies we point to have the potential to expand access to mental health programs and services in schools and improve youth mental health overall.”

Mental Health Resources & Related Reading

While the commentary aims to reach legislators, the authors also highlight several resources that may be beneficial to caregivers, health care providers, teachers, coaches, and others who engage with and advocate for children. These resources, along with a few others, include: