Students with Mental Illness Find Treatment at School

Students with Mental Illness Find Treatment at School

by Scott Suhring
The Patriot-News | Nov 14, 2019

Educators have long recognized that mental illness is a disease that can impact many students in many different ways throughout the school day, including suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety.

The recent report from the state’s Safe2Say program, a platform for anonymously potentially unsafe activities, provided a stark reminder of how these challenges are mounting. The program received roughly 28,500 safety tips in the first six months of 2019, and more than 90 percent of the tips dealt with mental health issues.

We also know and understand much more clearly that adverse experiences at home such as abuse, or neglect have a tremendous impact on students. If a parent is absent or incarcerated, for instance, their children might need additional mental health support.

Growing numbers of students have family members impacted by the opioid crisis or are facing housing or food insecurities. There are any number of factors that can impact students as they enter the classroom.

Against this backdrop, it is critically important that parents and students are aware that help is available for their children and family in many schools throughout our region. Under the innovative statewide Medicaid Behavioral HealthChoices (BHC) program, county and school leaders are helping families address these challenges.

Currently, there are 239 satellite mental health outpatient clinics in schools throughout Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and Perry counties. In the last fiscal year, 3,661 students enrolled in the Medicaid BHC program received counseling by a licensed clinician in one of these satellite mental health programs. The age of students who received this treatment is telling:

  • Ages 0-5: 114
  • Ages 6-12: 2,288
  • Ages 13-17: 1,434

This effort would not be possible without the BHC program, which was created more than 20 years ago and has continued to evolve over the years to address consumers’ needs.

Under BHC, each county has the opportunity to manage the Medicaid BHC program as the primary contractor or to work with other counties and form collaborative partnerships. Counties can identify what innovative approaches can best meet the unique needs of their constituents.
We started embedding these outpatient clinics in schools a decade ago. Putting these resources in schools makes sense for several compelling reasons, starting with the obvious fact that we know where these young people are every Monday – Friday. This is a captive audience.

In addition, we know from our experience that parents seeking help for their children and families are sometimes more comfortable going into a school building than an outpatient clinic. Our society has come a long way in accepting that mental health challenges are pervasive, yet we need to recognize that some families, and young people especially, can be fearful of the stigma that can be associated with mental health challenges. By offering these services in the school, this barrier can be removed.

We also know that families live close to their schools, so these services are more accessible. Consider a family, for instance, being able to drive to their school in Duncannon for counseling, rather than having to drive to Carlisle or Harrisburg.

I encourage parents to ask their school leaders if these services are available in their children’s school building or in the district.