A program to improve and provide access to mental health and substance use programs geared toward Ohio K-12 students, teachers and staff is getting a $6 million boost.
Miami University is leading the Ohio School Wellness Initiative, a 21-month plan beginning this month. The funding comes from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund, part of Ohio's share of CARES Act dollars.
"The crux of the project really is about supporting students who may have mental health concerns, who may have behavioral health problems, or who may be experimenting or involved with substance abuse," explains Cricket Meehan, director of Miami's Center for School-Based Mental Health Programs. "The goal is to help reduce those problems with the students, and we can do that by connecting them with people that can build strong relationships with them either through services or supports like therapy or other kinds of things like that."
Mental health-related problems have increased, especially during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC data shows such emergency room visits increased 31% for children ages 12-17 and 24% for kids 5-11 when comparing March 2020 through October 2020 to the same time period in 2019.
There are three key components to the plan:
- Implementing an Ohio version of a Student Assistance Program (SAP) based on recommendations from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Strengthening early intervention (Tier II) and individualized, intensive intervention (Tier III) programs that address mental health, behavioral health and substance use.
- Making sure teachers and staff have access to mental health supports.
Programs, resources and supports already exist. This aims to bring them all together and create regional collaborations to maintain continued access and coordination after the 21-month funding ends.
"There are lots of pockets of things happening across the state ... What we're hoping to do with this project is to identify all of the different things that are available across the state, compile that and create a clearinghouse of that while also identifying if there (are) gaps," Meehan says.
She adds having teams across the state should make it easier to get help rather than going through one centralized hub. The plan is to make sure everything is in place and running self-sufficiently by the time the 21 months are up so that the programs can continue well after the funding ends.
"Most of this work historically has been done in a siloed approach," Meehan says, explaining the usual response is to focus on just one issue, depression for example. "The approach that we're doing in this project will be very, very comprehensive. We're looking at the whole child. We're going to provide supports and tools and resources to support the whole child as opposed to simply the mental health or behavioral health concern that's identified."