Studies Show Effectiveness of School-Based Mental Health Programs

For immediate release: September 15, 2000

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Experts will focus on developing more youth-oriented programs at Atlanta conference

Improving schools and the quality of education in America are major issues in this year's presidential election. Recent studies conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine and other institutions show that school-based mental health programs can improve student grade point averages, while reducing school absenteeism and the number of discipline problems. In Baltimore, the mean grade point average of elementary school students receiving school mental health services increased from 1.8 to 2.11 in a recent one-year period.

A 1997 study conducted in public schools in Dallas, Texas, showed that school-based mental health programs reduced discipline problems by 95 percent. The course failure rate dropped by 13 percent and school absenteeism decreased by 32 percent. Improving and developing new school-based mental health programs in the U.S. will be the focus of the Fifth National Conference on Advancing School-Based Mental Health Programs, which is being held in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 21-23. More than 700 educators, school health professionals, and mental health experts from around the world are expected to attend the conference at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel.

The event is sponsored by the Center for School Mental Health Assistance (CSMHA) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. CSMHA is a national resource and information center, providing consultation and technical assistance to school-based mental health programs and professionals throughout the country.

"Because of the turmoil at home and in their communities, many children suffer from social or emotional problems, or feelings of constant fear and hopelessness. These problems can impact their schoolwork, lead to post traumatic stress disorders, or cause students to act out or become violent themselves," says Mark Weist, Ph.D., director of CSMHA and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Weist also directs mental health programs in 21 Baltimore public schools. According to Dr. Weist, numerous studies show that school-based mental health programs really do work by reaching the young people who need them the most and improving their social and emotional functioning.

Access to proper mental health care for children remains limited. Many barriers still exist for families seeking treatment at community based centers. Some are afraid of the social stigma of receiving mental health services, while others may not be able to afford care. In other cases, parents are simply not aware of the mental heath services available for children. Fewer than 10 percent of schools in the U.S. have comprehensive mental health care programs available to all young people.

This year's conference will focus attention on the need for more school-based mental health programs nationwide and strategies for developing effective new programs in cooperation with children's groups and community organizations, including collaborative efforts with the faith-based community, school violence prevention programs, crisis management, and school-based treatments for ADHD.

"Youth are the most neglected group of people who need mental health services in this country, but school-based programs can help. We need to continue to develop programs with input from kids, parents, church groups, and anyone else who has a stake in the child's well being," says Dr. Weist. An Atlanta-based group, Youth Communication, will be one of several youth-oriented programs highlighted at the conference. The organization provides mentoring, peer support, and diversity training programs to children. In addition, Youth Communication runs the VOX (Voice of Our Generation) Newspaper, which gives young people the opportunity to write, edit, and publish their own educational newspaper.

For more information on the Center for School Mental Health Assistance (CSMHA), visit the center's website at http://csmha.umaryland.edu.

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