Arizona Meets Students ‘And Educators’ Mental Health Needs With School-Based Programs – State of Reform
In the Arizona telemedicine program online seminar Friday on school-based mental health education for youth in rural communities last week, Jean Ajamie of the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) School Safety and Welfare team present a comprehensive overview of recent Arizona statewide initiatives for student mental health.
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Ajamie noted that almost all data points for youth behavioral health have trended downward since 2009 for Arizona and the nation as a whole. She cited data from the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), who compared Arizona to the United States in several mental health categories.
Arizona rates were higher than national rates in two categories. 40.6% of young people in Arizona said they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two consecutive weeks or more, compared to 36.7% of young people in the United States as a whole. Arizona also said that 4.2% of young people have attempted suicide, resulting in an injury being treated by a doctor or nurse, compared to 2.5% of young people in the United States as a whole.
Ajamie also highlighted the survey results given to frontline employees, such as district emergency preparedness coordinators and school nurses.
“We have probed [district emergency preparedness coordinators] and our school nurses in order not only to understand the situation but also to develop our professional development plans for this year.
District Emergency Preparedness Coordinators ranked mental health issues under their top three areas of concern for the 2021-2022 school year. School nurses said that mental and emotional disorders are the third most frequently observed chronic health problem, 71% would like to receive training on mental health screening and that mental health was the main need remaining linked to the pandemic .
Ajamie said the Arizona Pediatric Healthcare Coalition has also met their needs.
“[Their response] was a call to us and the schools to do what we can to serve students in school due to the pressures on the health care system.
She then commented on the passage of Senate Bill 1376, which called on the State Board of Education to require mental health teaching as part of health education teaching in a health class or other course. She noted that the program would send boards to schools in the coming weeks to support them in implementing this new requirement.
However, she said the bill does not go far enough as there has ultimately been a downward trend in the health education requirement for graduation.
“It’s a really good start, I don’t want to minimize the potential here, but it’s really important to know that we have a very low requirement for health education to start. It might not be as strong as it could be if we had a stronger requirement for health education. “
Ajamie also underlined the Peer support program for educators developed during the pandemic by School Safety & Social Wellness in partnership with the state health department and the Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). They used a behavioral health agency specializing in employee assistance programs to train 20 clinician-supported peer teacher and administrator coaches to provide assistance to educators in distress.
“It’s a way to reach people who may not have access to a clinician or who may be uncomfortable with the idea of therapy. ”
She also commented on the progress in hiring school staff such as counselors and social workers with ADE pandemic relief funds by expanding the acceptable criteria for hiring graduates in order to have a better chance of fill positions in hard-to-reach areas. They will also soon embark on a program to hire and train school nurses, with the goal of hiring 60 resident nurses for underserved rural areas.
She underscored the criticality of these workforce initiatives.
“I think that’s probably one of the most important jobs we do, is getting very skilled and trained hands to help manage the situation on campus.”
Ajamie drew attention to a school-behavioral health partnership resource guide they had developed, stressing the importance of a good relationship between schools and behavioral health agencies in the area.
“It’s really important because a school has to be able to recognize when it goes beyond its expertise and when it needs to be referred. There is a lot to that. There has to be a referral policy and process. They need to be on the same page with the terminology. One of the most important things you see right away is that the term behavior means something different to educators than it does in our behavioral health system.
Ajamie also mentioned a new grant opportunity offered by the agency called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Grant (ESSER), which was announced earlier this week. The funds are intended to provide mental, behavioral and physical health supports to students.
“It’s exciting for me to see improving mental health as a priority. I’m sorry to see why he has reached this point of actually having the recognition he needs. But here we are, with good resources.