U.S. Senator Tina Smith Highlights Bill to Boost Mental Health Services for Students While Visiting Minnesota Elementary School

WASHINGTON, D.C. [04/25/19]—Today, U.S Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) announced she’s reintroduced her legislation to make sure students in schools across the nation are able to access the mental health services they need, where they are, while visiting Franklin Elementary School in Rochester.

While hearing from Rochester area educators and mental health professionals, Sen. Smith discussed her Mental Health Services for Students Act, which would provide funding for comprehensive mental health services in schools.

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 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 support.

This legislation is supported by a coalition of more than 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. You can read a summary of the bill here.

“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. They talk about how kids walk through the classroom doors with the weight of the world on their shoulders,” said Sen. Tina Smith, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “Providing mental health services at school is common sense—reaching students where they are—and would be a big help for parents and educators while making sure students in Minnesota and across the country have access to the care they need to succeed.”

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. 

Minnesota Mental Health, Education Leaders Weigh in on Need for Legislation

“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 the Center for School Age Wellness at Minnesota Community Care 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 more support mental health care where children spend most of their time—in their schools. School-based care has a long history of fostering wellness and ensuring health equity that improves learning. This bill will strengthen collaboration between schools and community partners in mental health care across the nation, enabling communities to provide the ideal conditions for children and youth to connect, learn and grow.”  

“The availability to partner with Woodland Centers to offer School-Based Mental Health Supports has made a positive impact in our school,” said Lori Lockhart, Principal at Roosevelt Elementary in Willmar, Minn. “Students receive the ‘wrap-around’ service on a weekly basis that allows them to cope and build the resiliency they need to flourish and be successful.  Our staff benefits as well due to the trained professionals in the building, we tap into their expertise to help us as staff create classroom environments that are more conducive to ALL students especially those needing more supports.”

This legislation is also supported by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) has been a long-time champion of this bill in the House of Representatives.

You can read a summary of the bill here.