Children’s Mental Health: Work Still Needs To Be Done
Earlier this week, the Joint Coalition on Health for Central Massachusetts released a needs assessment for mental health and substance abuse.
The Coalition’s findings were troubling, but in many ways unsurprising. The report showed that despite a strong network of providers, there remain significant unmet mental health needs among children in North Central Worcester County. There are troublingly high rates of young people who have contemplated or attempted suicide, engaged in risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, and have been involved with the juvenile justice system. Still, none of these rates are too far out of line with either state or federal trends.
If there are lessons to be learned, it is that disparities within the children’s mental health system still exist. There are disparities in terms of access to care between cities and rural areas. There are disparities between insurance types, as many clinicians do not accept private insurance. There are disparities in terms of the types of treatment services available.
The bright spot that came from the report release was the announcement of renewed funding for the Winchendon Project by the Health Foundation of Central MA. The Winchendon Project is an innovative pilot program that works with the Murdock Middle High School to provide consultative resources to the school and address the mental and behavioral health needs of the students. The funding from the Health Foundation will allow the Winchendon Project to implement phase 2 of the program.
Shortcomings in the Massachusetts’ children’s mental health system may seem daunting, but we have models such as the Winchendon Project to show us the way. Implementation of a comprehensive, yet individualized, program of mental health consultative services into the setting where children are already is an effective and proven way to help young people.
Chapter 321, An Act Relative To Children’s Mental Health, calls on the State to do exactly that. Right now, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is holding meetings of the Task Force on Behavioral Health in the Schools to make recommendations as to how we can help students in school settings. These meetings are frequent and open to the public. The next meeting of the Task Force will be on Wednesday, April 1 from 10 AM - 1 PM at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (75 Pleasant Street, Malden).
Please come and participate. The time is NOW to have your voice heard.