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October 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Catch mental health problems early
In the vast arena of public education, the part least understood or addressed well is mental health. Think about it. Schools remain vigilant about ensuring students perform well academically. Immunizations are legally required and periodic check-ups for hearing and vision remain even as school systems have cut back in many areas. These things are appropriate because they directly impact students in the classroom.
Mental health also directly impacts students, as I note in my latest column. But a combination of stigma and inattention has left mental health issues on the periphery of education policy discussions. I write in my column about the many ways that is changing.
An example: In the Seattle Public Schools, all the comprehensive high schools and middle schools, plus the Interagency Academy and the World School, have mental health professionals on staff. This is possible because of the Seattle Families and Education levy, a seven-year measure approved by voters four times, most recently in 2011 for $231 million.
A focus on student health that includes the range from emotional/social issues to diagnosed disorders is a key piece of prevention efforts. It is obviously needed. About one in five adolescents has a mental health disorder and 60 percent to 90 percent of them don’t ask for or receive treatment, according to Child Trends. Most mental health needs of adolescents are first identified in schools, although the point I make in my column is that intervention often does not come soon enough.
This conversation ought to continue next Tuesday when Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler holds a public hearing about insurance plans and coverage of mental health services. Participation is vital because testimony from the public hearing will be used to craft rules guiding mental health parity requirements in this state. Families looking for more information about mental health services can find plenty at the Early Assessment Support Alliance website.