Clinicians in Schools Taking Charge of the Youth Mental Health Crisis

The latest Kids Count Data Book 2023 paints a dire picture for Maine’s youth and calls for immediate action to address their mental health challenges. According to the report, nearly 36% of approximately 55,000 high school students in Maine reported feeling sad or hopeless, which is an increase of 4% from just before the pandemic. The number of incidents of self-harm and serious suicidal thoughts has risen, and approximately 2,500 Maine youth were admitted to the emergency room for suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts in 2022 alone.

Another report released earlier this year by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly three in five teenage girls will continue to feel sad and hopeless in 2021 compared to almost all boys, which showed a doubling. These numbers are not surprising to educators who recognize that students’ academic functioning and emotional well-being have declined since the pandemic. Students are easily irritable and have difficulty controlling their moods and behaviors.

These numbers are attributed to family issues, trauma, social media, and current events. The pandemic has had a significant negative impact on young people in Maine. The solution to this crisis is to provide adolescents with direct access to school-based behavioral health services to help them learn to process their emotions and learn coping and adjustment skills.

School-based clinicians work with guidance counselors and school social workers to shape the continuum of care to support the mental health needs of students. These services are usually provided by outsourced behavioral health organizations like Sweeter. Clinicians work with individual students and their families in schools, homes, and communities throughout the year, offering a more holistic view of their needs. Sweether served more than 2,300 students in schools from Kittery to Bangor last year.

School-based clinicians play a vital role in addressing the mental health crisis among young people. They provide mental health services directly in the school setting, allowing them to be more responsive to the momentary needs of each student and partner with school staff. The provision of school-based mental health services is the best prevention.

The expectation is to avoid young people who need higher levels of care, like admitting oneself to a psychiatric residential treatment facility or emergency room for danger to oneself or others. Reaching out to children early on and providing the support structures they need to treat their behavioral health needs clearly reduces the financial burden on the criminal justice system. Between 50% and 75% of young people who end up in the juvenile justice system are likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Maine’s youth need treatment, support and hope. All we need is to give schools the tools to make it happen.

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