Sen. Tina Smith’s Bill Would Help Students Access Mental Health Services in Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. [08/02/18]—U.S Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) is pressing for new legislation to make sure students in schools across the nation are able to access the mental health services they need, where they are.

Young people experience mental health conditions about as often as adults—about 1 in 5 struggle with severe mental health problems—but they often have a hard time getting services. Schools are an ideal setting to identify students who need mental health services and quickly connect them with help. Sen. Smith’s bill—the Mental Health Services for Students Act—would help schools partner with local mental health providers to establish on-site, mental health services for students. It would also provide training for school personnel on how to recognize, assist, and refer students who may need mental health assistance. 

You can read a summary of the bill here. This legislation is supported by a coalition of nearly 50 national organizations representing consumers, family members, mental health and addiction providers, advocates, and other stakeholders committed to strengthening Americans’ access to mental health and addiction care.

“So many kids walk through the classroom doors with the weight of the world on their shoulders,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “When I ask teachers about what keeps them up at night, they often tell me they worry about the mental health challenges many of their students face. Providing these services at school is commonsense—reaching students where they are day-in and day-out—and would be a big help for parents and educators alike while ensuring that students have access to the care they need to succeed.”

“Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14,” said Sue Abderholden, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness MN. “It’s critical that we identify and treat mental illnesses in children in schools—where children are—and promote collaboration with mental health providers so that barriers to access to care are eliminated. We thank Sen. Smith for her leadership on this bill to address the mental health needs of children so that all children can do well in school and in life.”

Shawna Hedlund, Director of School-Age Wellness at West Side Community Health Services said, “I once heard Principal Mary Mackbee of Central Senior High School in St Paul express to our state legislature, ‘schools have become the ad hoc mental health provider of today’s youth.’ At the heart of this bill is an understanding of the underestimated complexity of children’s mental health today and an appreciation for providing mental health care where children spend time—in their schools. School-based care has a long history of fostering wellness in youth that improves learning. This bill will strengthen collaboration between schools and partners in mental health care across the nation, enabling communities to provide the ideal conditions for children and youth to connect, learn and grow.”  

Sen. Smith’s Mental Health Services for Students Act would help students by providing funding to:

·        Build partnerships between schools and community-based organizations that can help students get mental health services at school; 

·        Train teachers, families, and community members to recognize when a student is experiencing a mental health crisis; and make sure they get the help they need; and 

·        Recognize best practices for the delivery of mental health care in school-based settings and help promote partnerships between those who work to support the mental and emotional health of children and adolescents in school settings. 

This legislation is also supported by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) has been a long-time champion of this bill in the House.

You can read a summary of the bill here.