Even before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health has been a growing concern in the U.S., especially among children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children.
Per the CDC, 7.4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 have received a diagnosis for a behavior problem; 7.1 percent have been diagnosed with anxiety; and 3.2 percent have been diagnosed with depression.
Rates of mental disorders change by age; for example, anxiety is more prevalent in children ages 12 to 17, while behavior disorders are most prevalent from ages 6 to 11.
The San Benito County Office of Education and the County’s Behavioral Health Department have noticed the recent increase in mental health issues. As such, they’ve collaborated to bring additional health services to students in each of the county’s 12 school districts, not just the largest ones.
Jen Logue, the SBCOE’s deputy superintendent, emphasized the importance of students at schools such as Bitterwater-Tully—a tiny, rural school in the far reaches of southern San Benito County—and Cienega Elementary having access to a mental health clinician.
“They have a person who goes there—not everyday—but who is available, which allows all students in the county to receive services if they need them,” Logue said. “It’s much more equitable.”
Previously, only the schools in the largest districts had access to services such as substance abuse counseling and mental health therapy. With the expansion of mental health services in the county, Logue said part-time case managers and mental health clinicians have been placed on site at schools in the county’s five largest districts and the Alternative Education Programs.
While schools in the six smallest districts won’t have a case manager or mental health clinician on site daily, they will have access on a rotational basis and for emergencies. Most of the schools in the county have counselors and psychologists; however, they’ve lacked the funds to bring in mental health services until the last couple of years.
“With the pandemic, it seems there is more of a need for it than there used to be,” Logue said. “I don’t know if it’s all the different social media (outlets), a change in society or if it was just hidden before. I don’t know the reason for it, but there is definitely a big need now for mental health services.”
Having these services on school campuses instead of solely on the County’s Behavioral Health Department facilities on San Felipe Road has a ripple effect in that it allows students easier access to seek and receive services. In the past, a school like San Benito High had a case manager on site, but since they’re not licensed to deliver actual therapy, they refer the parent to the Behavioral Health Department.
The parent then has to drive out to the facility for their child to receive services, but in many cases due to a variety of reasons, “they’re not going to do that,” Logue said. That’s why having a mental health therapist on campus works well because the student can receive services in an expedited and streamlined way.
Unfortunately, the pandemic hit just as the SBCOE and SBCBHD launched a pilot program to provide mental health therapy. Since then, they’ve had to provide the majority of their services over phone calls or Zoom.
“We do have our social workers doing some home visits and providing a little counseling and therapy that way,” Logue said. “But our hope is once we can safely return to school, we’ll do it in person because it’s much more effective in person.”
As the increased needs for mental health services continue to grow, the SBCOE and SBCBHD have collaborated to stay ahead of the curve. Like most health issues, early diagnosis and services can make a difference in the lives of children with mental disorders.