STOCKTON, Calif. — A 2021 federal report attributes a rise in violent crime in schools across the U.S. to a number of factors, including student mental health access.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics' recently released report says around 55% of public schools across the county provide mental health resources to students, and only 42% provide mental health assessment and and treatment.
Locally, the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) -- also the largest district in the city -- provides its over 36,000 students with access to both mental health services and treatment at its schools.
SUSD Director of Mental Health, Karen Coleman, has been with the district for 15 years. She previously worked for San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services where she found out just how critical mental health access was in education.
“One of the things that I noticed very quickly was that it was difficult for families to get their students to an outpatient clinic and felt very strongly that services should be provided at schools where the access is more immediate," said Coleman.
SUSD has an entire sector of staff and resources dedicated to providing and educating students about mental health access.
“We have school counselors, school psychologists, school nurses and mental health clinicians, and so we provide services at the level that the student needs,” Coleman said. “We provide a pretty extensive and robust continuum of care so that if students need a more intensive level of service, we can provide that and if they need more groups or just targeted services, we can provide that as well.”
According to Coleman, SUSD has 38 health clinicians for its over 100 schools providing individual, group and family therapy for students and families using evidence-based practices and trauma-focused practices.
“It's a very step-by-step, comprehensive progressive method of triage and assessment to make sure that we're meeting the child's needs,” Coleman said.
Teachers in SUSD also go though special training to identify students who may be in need of support or intervention, as well as educate students about the care they have access to.
“In particular, we provide youth mental health first aid training where there is training around how to identify those early signs of mental health or distress,” Coleman said. “With COVID, our students were experiencing a lot of anxiety and depression and feelings of isolation, and so we made a point to provide that training so that they can identify those early signs.”
This access has been especially helpful to students following post-COVID anxiety that children everywhere experienced following the return from pandemic lockdown, as well as the overall rise in gun violence and other mental health-related crimes.
The federal report says the 2020-21 school year had the most deadly school shootings in the last two decades, which is reportedly attributed to post-pandemic stress and anxiety, depression, bullying and overall lack of mental health availability to children and families during unprecedented times.
“I think access is really the biggest piece," Coleman said. “When mental health services are provided through education and at the school sites, it allows for students and families to have access more immediately and readily available.”
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