To Improve Minnesota Youth Mental Health, Start at School
Growing up isn’t easy. Middle and high school students across Minnesota juggle challenging courses, extracurricular activities and rapidly shifting social environments – all during a time of significant physical and emotional change. And while our state is ranked among the top 10 states for education, our student support services have some catching up to do.
Unfortunately, Minnesota ranks 48th in the nation for school counseling services, with only one counselor for every 743 students. Since more than 26,000 young Minnesotans experience a major depressive episode per year — and only 54 percent receive treatment — it’s critical that we make it a statewide priority to improve access to mental health care services for youth.
Providing on-site mental health treatment in schools
Staff at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital, a Minnesota hospital, knew that they could help improve youth mental health on their local schools, and in 2014, they made their vision a reality. The Park Nicollet Foundation partnered with St. Louis Park Middle School to create an on-site mental health care program for students called No Obstacles to Well-being (NOW!).
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Improving mental health while maximizing learning time
Typically, students receive mental health care services from an off-site provider, which means they miss class for appointments while their parents miss work to provide transportation. Beyond this, for students experiencing mental health conditions, making up class time they have missed for appointments can be a source of additional stress. These barriers make receiving mental health care difficult and, in some cases, impossible.
The NOW! program has eliminated those obstacles to care. Young teenagers with mental health needs are connected directly to Diane Kuznia, a licensed psychologist at the Park Nicollet Clinic, via video-conferencing services set up in a private area of the building during school hours. Currently, Kuznia meets with nine to 10 students per week who have varying mental health needs.
Diane Kuznia, a licensed psychologist at the Park Nicollet Clinic
“We see students about everything from learning how to manage the transition to middle school to more significant mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and inflicting self-harm,” said Kuznia. “Through the NOW! program, students develop skills to deal with some of their emotions, which leads to not missing class as often and their grades improving.”
Mental health care is health care, and every Minnesotan deserves access to safe, effective and affordable mental health care.
Dr. Kuznia isn’t the only one seeing improvements. Parents and teachers of students in the program have been thankful for a treatment option that meets teenagers where they are, in a comfortable setting. Due to its success, the NOW! program has expanded its reach to students at Richfield High School as well.
Delana Brinkman, dean of students at St. Louis Park Middle School
“I’ve had parents say, ‘Our child would not be receiving therapy if not for this program,’” said Delana Brinkman, dean of students at St. Louis Park Middle School. “We’re pleased to provide mental health care services in support of our students and families, and in partnership with Park Nicollet Foundation.”
Minnesota youth mental health services are urgently needed
Mental health diagnoses were three of the top five reasons children and adolescents ages 10-17 were admitted to hospitals in our state between 2010 and 2014. Telemental health services are already improving youth mental health, but more work is urgently needed throughout Minnesota to ensure students across the state can access care that helps prevent mental health crises.
By delivering mental health services in schools through telemental health, we reduce barriers and cultural stigma that keep students from seeking treatment, and provide care in a setting that makes it more likely that they will continue treatment. But to serve more students, our state lawmakers must cultivate the infrastructure and resources to make this possible.