Here's what Baltimore public schools are doing to fight a mental health crisis

Here’s what Baltimore public schools are doing to fight a mental health crisis

Nearly 143,000 children across Maryland have developed anxiety and depression since the coronavirus pandemic began 31 months ago, according to federal mental health data analyzed by a local nonprofit. . In 2016, about 9.4 percent of people between the ages of 3 and 17 were diagnosed with depression or anxiety in the state, according to the Kids Count data book from the Annie E Casey Foundation.
By the end of 2020, nearly 13% of young people statewide had such diagnoses.

Nationally, there are more than 7.3 million young people struggling with depression and anxiety, an increase of 1.5 million between 2016 and 2020.

In Baltimore, the public school district has decided to establish a new team of school system professionals to help students deal with mental health issues exacerbated by the lack of in-person learning, canceled after school activities and more. isolation to curb the spread of the virus. These new employees are known as Student Wellness Support Teams.

School leaders have said that while students are resilient, the need for mental health has increased.

“This is in addition to many of the challenges that our young people are already facing,” said Sarah Warren, executive director of all Baltimore City Public Schools Childhood Services and Support. “So it’s not that it’s all new here in Baltimore. This compounds existing constraints and challenges.

The goal is to educate students and parents about which staff members are available to support them, Warren said.

All elementary schools in the district are now holding emotional check-ins before students start the day and mental health meetings for all middle and high school students with adults, she said.

The district focuses on the concepts of student integrity, restorative practices, and time for students to build relationships with their classmates and teachers.

“Building relationships is also fundamental to teaching and learning, because the best teaching and learning occurs when there is a strong, connected relationship between student and teacher and between students in a class,” she said.

Maryland State Department of Education received over $3 billion of the American Rescue Plan Act for mental health programs.

Schools in Maryland are poised to get a new influx to tackle mental health after the Biden administration signed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act that earmarks $1 billion nationwide over the past few years. next five years to increase school mental health services for students and staff.

But there has been a bottleneck when it comes to hiring mental health professionals, school officials said.

“At this point, money isn’t really our problem, it’s really being able to find and hire enough qualified clinicians to do the work that we need to do with our students,” Warren said.

Every public school in Baltimore has at least one social worker, but it has been difficult to hire more mental health clinicians, such as a psychologist.

The district was able to strengthen mental health support through its Expanded School Behavioral Health Programwhich brings clinicians from local organizations into the schools.

Students of color have particularly difficult mental health issues compared to their white peers, according to federal data. Millions of students under the age of 18 said they felt unfairly judged because of their race or ethnicity, the data shows.

In Baltimore, there is a program that works with students to help them heal from the trauma caused by racism in everyday life.

The Health Youth Alliance is a partnership between the University of Maryland School of Social Work, the Black Mental Health Alliance, and Heartsmiles.

Kyla Liggett-Creel leads the alliance as executive director and is an associate clinical professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

“The goal is to really help young people learn more about mental health, healing and resilience in the African American community, after the training, young people start to become trainers and advocates,” Liggett said. -Creel.

For 24 weeks, the Youth Ambassadors study and research topics such as depression, systematic racism, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm. With guidance from university graduate students, they also focus on learning healing-centered practices for trauma recovery.

Janiah Fields, a sophomore at McDaniel College, became an ambassador when she was a student at Baltimore Polytechnic High School.

She said seeing the need for mental health support from her peers led her to join the alliance and start a self-care club at school.

“At some point, we have to find ways to create new healing outlets for people who are going through things that the rest of the world may not be going through, especially in Baltimore.” Fields said.

Field said the coping strategies she learned as an ambassador helped improve her mental health. She added that breaking the stigma around mental health could encourage more young people to get the help they need.

“Our young people are going to be our next teachers, lawyers and doctors,” Fields said. “We need to equip them with the right mental knowledge as well as academic knowledge to be successful and functional adults.”

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