Report eyes role for schools in behavioral health crisis

Citing progress in addressing children’s behavioral health and areas in urgent need of improvement, a new report suggests that schools and pediatric primary care providers can play a greater role in addressing a “protracted crisis.”

The 45-page report, released Jan. 19 by the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, draws on 25 interviews with unnamed system insiders to compile insights and recommendations for policymakers to weigh in this year as the state begins implementation. of a law on access to mental health care that was signed in August.

The report calls on Governor Maura Healey’s administration to move forward with a roadmap developed under Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration that aims to create a “front door” to the behavioral health care system. That roadmap is designed to make a 24/7 behavioral health helpline available this year, secure coverage for preventive behavioral health services in primary care settings, grow community behavioral health centers, increase hospital beds and 24-hour behavioral health beds, and deliver rate increases for behavioral therapists.

The report also recommends changes to bring more order and coherence to a system that critics see as too disconnected and poorly coordinated. It recommends launching a public information campaign regarding the availability of emergency care and crisis services, the development of specialized services for children in dire need, and more coordinated care for children receiving multi-agency services.

“Stakeholders universally supported this policy and believed it provided a solid foundation for addressing the identified challenges,” the report said.

Stakeholders were primarily health plans and health care providers, but also included Boston and Methuen school officials, state mental health and health care and human services officials, and representatives from the Parent/Professional Advocacy League, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, and the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health.

“It is imperative that we look upstream and allocate more resources to primary care and school screening and prevention,” said Marcia Fowler, Bournewood Health Systems CEO and former mental health commissioner. “Services should be available to children and families in the communities in which they live, delivered by professionals who represent the many diverse communities in the Commonwealth.”

The mental health law passed this summer calls for a statewide program to help implement behavioral health services in every school district, and requires every school committee to ensure all schools have emergency medical and behavioral health plans written. It also tasked the state health policy committee with producing a behavioral health planning report every three years.

John Crocker, director of mental health and behavioral services for the Methuen Public Schools, said: “It will be essential to consider schools as the preventive arm of the mental health system and the importance of leveraging schools to provide proactive, preventive identification of advancing students with emerging mental health issues and providing evidence-based mental health services and support for students.”

To do this, he said, “investment in capacity building for schools will be needed, both systematically to design comprehensive school mental health systems to organize and deploy services effectively, and to promote the professional development of school mental health staff. support to deliver evidence-based therapeutic care to students. .”

Citing numerous sets of statistics, the report describes the “alarming” number of young people struggling with health behavioral problems, stating that even before the pandemic “were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes among young people”.

“COVID-19 made a bad situation worse,” the report says.

A U.S. Surgeon General report in late 2021 said that since the start of the pandemic, 25% of young people surveyed experienced depressive symptoms and 20% reported feeling anxious — “more than double the pre-pandemic rate in both cases.”

The report says that Massachusetts is lower than the national average for teen suicide and traumatic events known as “adverse childhood experiences,” but higher than the national average for anxiety, depression, alcohol use and illicit drug use in children and adolescents. Adolescents. In Massachusetts, nearly 64% of children with major depression do not receive behavioral health treatment, compared to nearly 60% nationally.

Report eyes role for schools in behavioral health crisis

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