U.S. Department of Education Takes Steps to Expand School-Based Mental Health Services for Mental Health Awareness Month

Today, in observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Biden-Harris Administration is unveiling fresh initiatives to enhance access to mental health services in schools. These actions include: (1) nearly doubling the investments in the U.S. Department of Education’s School-Based Mental Health Services (SBMH) and Mental Health Service Professionals (MHSP) grant programs for the current Fiscal Year; (2) making additional contributions through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) to enhance mental health and wellbeing among students and educators; and (3) providing new mental health and wellbeing training and resources for schools and educators.

“Today’s announcements reaffirm the Biden-Harris Administration’s unwavering dedication to addressing the mental health crisis facing our youth,” stated U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “We recognize that students are more inclined to seek mental health assistance when it is available within school settings. By nearly doubling funds this year for school-based mental health professionals, injecting additional resources to bolster various mental health strategies, and offering additional training and resources, we are setting higher standards for student wellbeing nationwide.”

Our nation’s schools play a crucial role in providing access to mental health services that may otherwise be inaccessible to students. Students are six times more likely to access mental health services when they are delivered in schools. Schools are well-positioned to offer access to a large number of students through education, preventive measures, services, and early intervention efforts, thereby helping to minimize the stigma associated with seeking mental health services. Enhancing youth mental health is a fundamental aspect of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to enhancing student wellbeing and outcomes: when youths have access to the necessary mental health care, they are more likely to flourish, learn, and forge meaningful connections with peers and supportive adults.

Due to President Biden’s efforts in enacting the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the BSCA, which are integral components of the President’s Unity Agenda, students now have increased access to crucial services and are more likely to have access to counselors, social workers, or nurses in their schools compared to when the President first took office. The Department has collaborated closely with federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as colleges and universities, to enhance the capacity of K-12 schools to offer mental health services and contribute towards achieving the President’s goal of doubling the number of school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals in school settings. Furthermore, investments made by the Biden-Harris Administration have enabled colleges and universities to train more school-based mental health professionals to support students and enhance diversity in the profession; enabled schools to recruit and retain mental health professionals and provide school-based services; and facilitated access to additional funding through the Medicaid program to bolster school health services, including mental health services.

Today, three additional actions are being announced to further the Administration’s efforts in enhancing the availability and accessibility of mental health services for children and youth. These actions include:

1. Nearly doubling the funding available in the current Fiscal Year for the School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) and Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) grant programs—and providing states, school districts, and higher education institutions with extended application deadlines.

Earlier this year, the Department issued Notices Inviting Applications (NIAs) for the SBMH and MHSP programs, totaling a $38 million investment for both programs. Following the enactment of the final Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, the Department will allocate an additional $32 million towards these essential programs—bringing the total available funding for states, local educational agencies, and higher education institutions for school-based mental health endeavors up to $70 million.

In addition to the increased funding, the Department has prolonged the application periods for both programs until May 31, 2024, ensuring they are open throughout Mental Health Awareness Month. This $70 million investment in FY 2024 builds upon the $571 million in grants previously awarded in these programs through Department appropriations and the largest expansion of K-12 mental health programs through BSCA. To date, the Biden-Harris Administration has given grants to 264 recipients across 48 states and territories to reinforce the pipeline and amplify the number and diversity of school-based mental health professionals—with the funding anticipated to help train and hire an additional 14,000 mental health professionals to cater to students’ mental health requirements. The NIAs, outlining the application prerequisites, have been published in the Federal Register. Applications for SBMH and MHSP must be submitted by May 31, 2024.

2. Releasing additional BSCA funding to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of students and educators.

BSCA allocated $1 billion for states to invest in enhancing school climate and safety, as well as supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students in underserved schools through the Stronger Connections Grant program. This funding is fortifying schools and fostering a more welcoming environment for students through various strategies, including school-based mental health services, safety measures, and intervention programs for community violence prevention. BSCA also included a 2% set-aside for providing technical assistance and capacity building to states, aiding in the administration and advancement of the objectives of the Stronger Connections Grant program. In the upcoming weeks, the Department will issue a notice for states to apply for the remaining BSCA funding, which can be utilized to enhance mental health initiatives, such as endeavors to improve mental health for young students and educators. This funding will enable states and schools to maximize the impact of their existing Stronger Connections Grant investment, benefiting more students.

3. Offering additional trainings and resources for youth mental health through the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services Technical Assistance Centers.

Throughout Mental Health Awareness Month, the Department’s technical assistance centers are disseminating resources and information to support state and local mental health initiatives. Each week will be dedicated to sharing resources on various topics: (1) Educator mental health and wellbeing, coordinated with Teacher Appreciation Week; (2) the Department’s Free to Learn initiative aimed at preventing violence, hate, and harassment; (3) Mental health and Medicaid resources for schools; and (4) Creating safe and healthy learning environments. More details regarding upcoming events on mental health can be accessed on the Department’s Best Practices Clearinghouse calendar, with additional resources, including toolkits and reports from the Department’s technical assistance centers available in the resource library. In addition to these resources, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new communications toolkit and is conducting various technical assistance sessions throughout May. The toolkit offers guidance on supporting children and youth in developing self-care strategies and skills for managing life stresses in a healthy manner. The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will continue collaborating to enhance access to essential healthcare services, particularly mental health services, for millions of students nationwide.

President Biden has identified addressing the mental health crisis as a key pillar in his Unity Agenda for the nation, emphasizing it as an issue that demands collective advancement. Since the inception of his Administration, President Biden has consistently underscored the necessity of investing in the mental health and wellbeing of every student. The Department will persist in furthering this mission by facilitating easier entry into mental health professions, expanding the number and diversity of school-based mental health professionals, fostering the growth of full-service community schools, strengthening collaborations with community-based organizations to deliver school-based mental health assistance and community violence interventions, and reducing the stigma and shame surrounding seeking help among young individuals.

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