Howard County expands student access to mental health services

Students in Howard County, Maryland, will have access to mental health services for at least the next two years, thanks to a more than $2 million expansion of the school system’s mental health program.

That’s nearly 58,000 children in 77 public schools, said County Executive Calvin Ball. The money will also be used to subsidize mental health resources in the community for vulnerable youth.

“Even before the pandemic exacerbated this crisis, we recognized the gap in mental health services, especially for our students and young residents,” Ball said.

Some $1.7 million, along with $980,000 from the American Rescue Plan and contributions by The Horizon and Kahlert foundations, will be used to expand the county’s School-Based Mental Health program. The program makes social workers available at Howard County schools and aims to create a culture of acceptance of mental health.

Ball also highlighted the $380,000 in his proposed 2023 budget to expand mental health services through HoCo STRIVES, which serves vulnerable students and families.

In announcing the expansion, Ball said that a Howard County 2018 survey found that 28% of high school students felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more and one in six high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide.

The pandemic brought on additional challenges, Ball said, citing a 2021 Maryland survey that found that 36% of high school students have felt sad or hopeless every day for two weeks in a row, and one in five students seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months. The findings were disproportionately high among Black and LGBT students.

“The past two years have been challenging for all of us and we know students are no exception,” Howard County schools Superintendent Michael J. Martirano said in a statement.

Howard County school board Chair Vicky Cutroneo said that school-based staff have reported children who are struggling.

“Anxiety, depression, fear, and a host of other issues are impacting our children’s ability to learn, and we cannot expect them to thrive academically until we tend to their social-emotional and mental health needs,” Cutroneo said.

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Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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