In July 2022, the Biden Administration pledged almost $300 million to schools to help develop and expand their mental health services. The total funds come from two separate bills:
- $140 million from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
- $140 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022
This money established two new programs: the School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Services Grant and the Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant. The programs funnel money into educating mental health professionals to provide what students need.
President Biden aims to double the number of counselors, psychologists, and social workers in schools. These funds mark progress toward that landmark.
Mental Health Services in Schools
A 2019 study found that 15% of teenagers access mental health services through school, while 17% see an independent professional. These numbers show that many students only have access to counselors through school, but countless districts don’t employ skilled mental health professionals.
Without this necessary service, students risk failing classes and dropping out. Data is also trending up regarding severe impairment from major depressive episodes. As a result, suicide attempts and deaths are increasing.
The statistics on how many school districts employ mental health professionals vary greatly depending on the location. Across the United States, roughly 38% of public schools have some mental health professionals on staff.
How Funding Helps Mental Health Services in Schools
The Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant Program provides grants to students in the mental health field. It will give them funds to get higher education and focus on services for children and teenagers. The program also helps form partnerships between mental health professionals and schools to increase employment rates.
The School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Services Grant goes to school districts needing qualified mental health professionals. The funds go to hiring counselors and school psychologists in schools with no mental health services or needing more professionals.
What It Means For Schools
Schools can apply for School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Services Grant Programs. These funds mean many schools can hire mental health professionals for the first time, and other districts can hire more providers to serve more students. Each provider’s caseload will also be smaller, which frees them up to better help each child.
Funds can also go to improving the learning conditions in schools. Studies show that students in classrooms that lack resources negatively impact their mental health. They feel frustrated and discouraged by what they’re missing.
This hopelessness can lead to more severe mental health problems as they grow older, leading to dropping out of school and attempting suicide.
Teachers also feel this strain. They need quality materials to teach students and keep them engaged in the learning process. When teachers don’t have the resources they need, they often spend their own money on the necessities.
If schools have grants to improve their supplies, classrooms, building, and grounds, it would be a better environment for everyone. Additional funds specifically for mental health professionals will ensure students feel supported at school and primed for success.
What It Means for Children
Children and teenagers face much uncertainty as they grow up, whether internal, due to their family environment or, since 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Most data comes from 2019, before the pandemic, and the statistics are already alarming.
Studies by the CDC found that over one in three students felt persistent sadness that year, which was a 40% increase over previous data. They also realized that one out of every six students thought of suicide, going as far as to make a plan. This number is a 44% increase in ten years.
Looking at those pre-pandemic numbers was a significant motivator for the $300 million going to mental health now. The Biden Administration realizes what parents, teachers, and support staff have seen for years—students need a support network and providing that at school ensures equal access for all youth.
When students feel connected to their family, community, and school, their overall health and well-being improve. Providing professional mental health services in schools is the best way to show students that help is available when they need it.
With the advances in telehealth, mental health professionals working in a school can reach students even when they’re not physically present. With so much funding going to schools and qualified professionals, children will benefit from more robust services, helping them feel appreciated and connected in their school environment.
The Mental Health Crisis in the United States
As SMBH grants go to LEAs with the greatest need, there are often not enough qualified professionals in the area. Therefore, much of the funding goes to bringing service providers to these locations.
Mental health professionals employed in school districts funded by SMBH grants get benefits. They get help paying back student loans and can quickly achieve cross-state licensing. Other incentives include asking for a flexible role, increased pay, or opportunities to grow in the position.
It’s expected that the Biden Administration will announce more funding for mental health services, including trauma-informed services and community violence. Over $10 million is still available for these programs.
In the meantime, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services work to show governors what funds they have available. Students using Medicaid should have access to school health care, including mental health services.
Schools aren’t the only place to get affordable mental health care. The previously mentioned Bipartisan Safer Communities Act earmarked $1.7 billion to improve metrics such as:
- Community-based behavioral health options
- Improved delivery of school-based services for students on Medicaid
- More screening and treatment options for people on Medicaid
- Training for pediatric mental health providers
- Building awareness of mental health services
With the federal government assigning money to mental health services in schools, there’s hope that students will get the help they need. Though at-need districts will first get the resources they need, the goal of doubling mental health providers in schools is a positive sign that students will soon have access to quality healthcare.