ESD 112 Makes Significant Strides in Access to School-Based Mental Health Support

School disruptions, family hardship, social isolation, illness, and the resulting pandemic-related depression and anxiety have taken a toll on youth across the nation. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control survey, approximately one in three high school students experienced poor mental health (most of the time or always) during the COVID-19 pandemic (37.1 percent) and during the past 30 days (31.1 percent).

Recognizing the need to remove barriers to support for students and the effectiveness of infusing mental health services into regular school routines, in 2021-22, ESD 112 made major strides in embedding mental health therapists in schools across Southwest Washington.

Studies have shown that approximately one in five youths in schools today have diagnosable mental health disorders. However, research has identified that close to 70 percent of those youths do not receive the services they need. By placing therapists in schools, we are increasing that important access to services.

By the fall of 2022, ESD 112’s Center for Behavioral and Mental Health will have hired and placed an astonishing 16 mental health therapists in schools throughout Southwest Washington, specifically, in small, rural schools that otherwise would not have access to these life-saving resources.

These monumental efforts were possible thanks to the thoughtful planning and resourceful utilization of new funding sources which allowed for the significant expansion of ESD 112’s existing mental and behavioral health program. Utilizing COVID emergency relief funding available through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), ESD 112 responded to the alarms being sounded by school district leaders and hired six additional therapists working in school districts by the end of June 2021. Additionally, when Klickitat County lost its youth crisis response provider, responsible for supporting youth with urgent mental health needs, ESD 112 stepped up to build a school-based mental health crisis support program and hired a mobile mental health therapist to support all of the small schools across Klickitat County. In this role, the therapist travels from school to school each week providing mental health therapy to students referred by the staff. ESD 112 also partnered with school districts in Klickitat County to offer training on building youth crisis response teams, with the goal of increasing local skills and abilities to intervene and support youth in crisis.

These incredible efforts were possible because of work undertaken during the previous 2020-21 school year. At that time, ESD 112 was awarded a license from the Department of Health as a Behavioral Health Agency and had also secured contract agreements with all the major managed care organizations in our region. These two critical steps laid the groundwork to allow ESD 112 to be reimbursed for therapy services provided to Medicaid-eligible students, which supplements the funding for these positions.

ESD 112’s important work promotes the inclusion of all students, allowing them to remain in the classroom learning without having to seek outside resources for mental health support.