Gun violence in our schools in recent years has made the demand for more mental health services in schools a national phenomenon that crosses the political spectrum. The Mental Health in Schools Act of 2013 was introduced in both the House and Senate with the vocal support of over 70 professional and community-based organizations including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Despite this momentum, the bill stalled like so many other important and non-partisan initiatives in today’s Washington. Given the impasse, it is time for organizations of allied health professionals working in schools (AOTA, APTA, and ASHA) to weigh in.
The US Surgeon General has estimated that between 5% and 11% of school-age children have mental health disorders that result in “extreme” or “significant” functional impairment. This means literally millions of children are at risk for being a danger to themselves or others. The House Bill introduced last year (H.R. 628) offered a broad of potentially effective solutions:
- Expand the scope of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program access to more comprehensive school-based mental health services
- Authorize competitive grants to local school districts that are particularly effective at mental health delivery
- Promote education and programs to support parents, siblings, and other family members of children with mental health conditions
- Require schools to thoroughly document outcome measures in order to qualify for continued funding
One reason why this is a very important bill for allied health professional organizations to actively support, is that preventative programs are promoted. There is wide consensus within the mental health community that earlier intervention for at risk youth decreases the need for more intensive interventions when they are older. The first levels of intervention are school-wide promotion and prevention efforts like anti-bullying programs and informal observation of all children to identify behaviors that may be cause for concern. The next level of intervention are targeted group services for at-risk students and the last level are intensive, individualized or group counseling with students showing clear symptoms of emotional distress.
H.R. 628 is a very solid, broad based approach that emphasizes prevention and the need to work with children long before they are diagnosed with a mental disorder. For this reason, all the national medical allied health professional organizations need to be pressured by their members to actively advocate for this bill. For the sake of our children and the professionals that work with them, we need to do everything we can to help Washington to do the right thing and pass H.R. 628 this year.
Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.
President, Allied Health Professionals LLC