(The Center Square) — A researcher for Washington State University is part of a team that found that 51.8% of school districts reported giving assessments for mental disorders. The college used this finding to support calls for the Washington legislature to fund more mental health services.
The study, with WSU College of Nursing Associate Professor Janessa Graves as lead author, was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It further clarified that just over half of school districts were set up for assessment, not treatment.
The number of school districts offering treatment for mental health issues drops to just 38.3% of schools. Rural school districts were disproportionately unlikely to offer assessment or treatment.
“In Washington state, funding for school support staff is based on student numbers,” said a press release accompanying the study’s publication. “If a school wants to get money for a full-time nurse, it needs to have between 5,000 and 7,000 students. That means that a small, rural school with only 150 students would receive money for a small part of a nurse position.”
Graves made the call for funding even more explicit.
“I think we really need to support our schools more,” she said in a statement. “By providing these services to our children, we are giving them tools in their toolbox to help them get through life a little more smoothly. And at the same time, we also better serve our communities.”
The study, based on the School Survey on Crime and Safety for the 2017-18 school year, uses the most recently published data. The researchers said they plan to redo their analysis with an upcoming report based on 2020 data to look for new trends in student mental health given COVID-19.
The study’s authors are particularly interested in the impact on service availability resulting from the normalization of telehealth during the pandemic.
Graves, herself a native of rural Washington, said she hopes the study will empower Washington policymakers to better advocate for rural schools to reduce inequality in access to mental health care.