Oregon students and school staff receive comprehensive mental health services from the Oregon Department of Education.
A federally funded project called The Strengthening Mental Health in Education Initiative aims to improve the mental health of Oregon students.
The $5.5 million initiative comes at a time when a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that the number of children in Oregon experiencing anxiety or depression has increased.
B Grace Bullock, senior mental health officer at the Department of Education, says the recent initiative is part of a series launched in recent years in response to feedback from students, families, caregivers and school staff about the need to support mental health.
The initiative began when Oregon was selected by the National School Administrators Association to collaborate on mental health infrastructure across the state.
“The first step of this initiative involved looking at the current landscape and trying to identify where the strengths and the challenges and gaps and opportunities lie,” Bullock said.
One of the aims of the initiative is to increase mental health literacy; knowledge of ways to improve mental health.
The state has implemented this through Oregon Classroom WISE, an online educational resource open to all Oregon residents. Classroom WISE is a digital suite that provides tools for improving mental health and supporting students in need.
Community care specialists and school employees also receive professional learning opportunities through the initiative.
“There are many who feel they would like to have a little more background in things like how to work with people who experience stress or how to create safe and inclusive schools,” Bullock said.
The program would train staff members who wish to improve their mental health support skills.
The initiative is also implementing a Community Care Project, which includes four school districts, the largest of which is the Hillsboro School District.
Francesca Sinapi, who is responsible for shares, access and engagement for the district, said community care specialists will be assigned to three elementary schools serving some of the most diverse populations in the state.
“What we’ve found in the past is that some of our diverse cultures, because of their cultural backgrounds, don’t have a full understanding of what mental health can offer their students because of the shadow of darkness that comes with mental health. ‘ said Sinapi.
Chelsea Holcomb, director of behavioral health for children and families at the Oregon Health Authority, said the exact reason for an increase in mental health problems in children is unknown, but Casey Foundation report shows the COVID-19 pandemic has a role played.
The state is implementing programs in response to student feedback to expand mental health services.
Holcomb said one way to do this is by providing non-clinical services.
“Our conversations with teens and young adults show that not every teen and young adult wants a therapist,” Holcomb said. ”
These include behavioral therapy at home, response and stabilization services, crisis and transition services and free access to the Uplift program through Youth Era.
Despite an increase in services, not enough people in the state work in behavioral health — or they leave the field.
“This system was in a crisis of sorts before the pandemic,” Holcomb said.
In response to the shortage, the health authority received funding from the state to work with federal partners to recruit more workers.