Children’s Mental Health: Current Challenges and a Future Direction
by Sarah Olbrich
MPH Candidate, George Washington University
The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools
June 7, 2002

Introduction

On May 2, 2002 the New York City Board of Education released preliminary information on a study (conducted in February and March of 2002) about the after affects of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks on school children. The study evaluated the responses of eight thousand fourth through twelfth grade students in New York City. The results showed that greater than 25% of students are suffering from at least one trauma related mental health disorder such as anxiety and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces).1 As with previous studies on children’s mental health, the majority of these students are also not receiving counseling. In order to help these children grow and develop normally, to help them have successful learning experiences, it is necessary to find ways to create access to and funding for mental health services for all children. By creating access to services, implementing screening and prevention programs, and providing necessary counseling, we can create an environment in which children with mental health disorders will get the services they need and possibly prevent mental disorders in children who are at risk.

It has been estimated that 21% of children and adolescents ages nine to seventeen experience the signs and symptoms of a DSM-IV disorder during the course of a given year.2,3 Mental disorders in children are real, common and treatable. Early identification, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders help children to fulfill their potential. Left untreated, children with mental health disorders may have problems at home, and trouble functioning and succeeding in school. Recently schools have become the providers of many non-traditional education services to children such as primary health care, mental health services, familial support, and parenting classes.

This report looks at current challenges in children and adolescent’s mental health and focuses on School-Based Health Centers as the most productive direction for the provision of mental health services to children and adolescents. The report will provide an overview of the extent of need in child and adolescent mental health, as well as provide information on a few of the common mental health disorders that affect this population. Next, the report will identify current service provider arrangements and challenges associated with those arrangements. This report will also examine the varied funding mechanisms of mental health services available to children. The focal point of this report will be how school-based health centers provide mental health services and why they are ideal locations for the receipt of mental health services by children and youth.