New Resource Provides Expert Guidance on Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 18, 2019) — Positive mental health can have a significant impact on a child’s academic performance and overall well-being. A national team of mental health experts, including the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (CHHCS) based at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH), today released a new resource that calls for:

  • Offering comprehensive mental health services and resources in a place that’s already central to the lives of children and families: schools.
  • Taking a public health approach to school mental health by focusing on prevention and early identification of mental health and substance abuse concerns, not just treatment of them.

The insights offered in “Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems: Guidance From the Field” are designed to promote positive school climate and safety, strengthen social and emotional learning, and foster mental health and general well-being, while reducing the prevalence and severity of mental illness. The paper also conveys the urgent need to act now to ensure that integrating comprehensive school mental health systems into all U.S. schools becomes standard practice.

“Too often school mental health strategies are fragmented or created in response to a crisis,” said Sharon Hoover, PhD, co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “And those seeking positive change for their states, school districts or communities find the available resources overwhelming or confusing. This resource brings together — in a brief, straightforward way — what we collectively know about successful school mental health and the key indicators of quality.”

The authors of this resource are recognized leaders in advancing the well-being of children, youth and young adults in schools and communities. Federal partners include the Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nonfederal partners include the Bainum Family Foundation; CHHCS at Milken Institute SPH; Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, Inc.; National Association of State Directors of Special Education; National Center for School Mental Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine; and the School-Based Health Alliance.

To fully capture current knowledge and best practices in the field, the partners convened three expert panels between late 2017 and June 2018 (representing another 75 individuals from federal departments/agencies, states, school districts/schools, universities and other organizations, such as nonprofits and funders), and also held sessions at conferences addressing child and adolescent mental health, including the Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental in both 2017 and 2018.

Written for youth, families, teachers, school administrators, state leaders, policy makers, child and family advocates, funders and businesses seeking to make a positive difference for students, the paper addresses:

  • The value and impact of effective school mental health;
  • The current state of the school mental health field;
  • Core features of comprehensive school mental health systems;
  • Recommended strategies for improving quality, scaling up and fostering the widescale adoption of comprehensive school mental health systems;
  • Insights on tailoring systems to the needs/resources of a school, district or community;
  • State and local spotlights representing significant progress on school mental health.

“Along with private practitioners and community-based services, comprehensive school mental health systems are an important part of the solution for providing vital mental health services and supports for children,” said Nisha Sachdev, DrPH, PsyD, director of the Bainum Family Foundation’s School Mental Health Initiative. “An essential value of comprehensive systems is their focus on prevention and early identification of mental health issues, not just treatment of issues when they become more severe. All children — regardless of whether they have experienced trauma or have a diagnosed disorder — have mental health needs, and all of them can benefit from these school-based supports.”

For more than 30 years, CHHCS has played a significant role in advancing the well-being of young people through its work to support child wellness, positive development and school success through collaborative partnerships that bridge health and education.

“We’re excited to be part of this national effort to advance and champion comprehensive school mental health systems because healthy social and emotional development provides the necessary foundation for children to learn, grow and thrive, both in school and in life,” said Olga Acosta Price, PhD, director of CHHCS and an associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “This document will be instrumental in helping school and mental health personnel who are seeking guidance on best practices for addressing the mental health needs in their communities. We are delighted to have been a part of the development of this document as a means to further advance and promote mental health through effective school-community partnerships.”

“Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems: Guidance from the Field” is available at www.schoolmentalhealth.org/AdvancingCSMHS. Key insights from the paper also will be shared and discussed at the 2019 Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental Health, held from Nov. 7 to 9 in Austin, Texas.

For more information about CHHCS and its work to build and sustain school-connected programs, policies, and systems to improve children’s overall health and school success, please visit healthinschools.org.