Mental Health Services Lacking for At-Risk Children

By Lawrence Hardy

The Student Intervention Team (SIT) talked about academics. The Student Assistance Program Team (SAP) was all about mental health. When a student acted up in class, the SIT team brainstormed ways to teach him. When that same student showed signs of anger and depression, the SAP team pondered how to get him help outside of class.

You don’t have to be a psychologist or an educator to notice a certain amount of redundancy here. And the point certainly was not lost on administrators at the Harrisburg School District, an urban school system serving Pennsylvania’s state capital. The district’s solution -- a single entity at each school that does the work of both teams -- shows it is rethinking how to help students with specific problems while addressing the widespread academic and behavioral issues of the general student population.

It could not come at a better time. Three-quarters of the children and youth who need mental health services in the United States do not receive them, and the treatment that many of these young people do receive is inadequate, mental health experts say.

Among school-age children, mental health problems are some of “the most neglected needs in the nation,” says Mark D. Weist, director of the Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It’s a very troubling scenario that a majority of youth with mental health needs do not receive services.”

With good reason, educators have called the nation’s dropout problem a “silent epidemic.” But schools are also dealing with another silent scourge that can be equally debilitating and, depending on the individual, could help explain behaviors as varied as anger and aggression, anxiety and stress, substance abuse, poor academic performance, and, yes, dropping out of school.

Would you like to continue reading?
Click here to log-in or become a subscriber to ASBJ.com.