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Mental Health Programs Improve Youth Performance

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Systems of care -- coordinated networks of community-based mental health services and supports for children and youth with serious mental health challenges -- are able to dramatically improve the academic, behavioral and emotional performance of participating youth according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report, “Working Together to Help Youth Thrive in Schools and Communities,” measured performance outcomes of system of care programs and found that these improvements occurred among many young people within 12 months of their enrollment in these programs.

For example, on average, 15 percent of youth (ages 14-18) nationally fail to reach the next grade level, but among youth who receive comprehensive services through system of care programs, only 8 percent had to repeat a grade. School systems, which had children participating in a systems of care program, saved $4.5 million that is attributed to more students being promoted to the next grade level. The savings is the amount that would have otherwise been spent in having the programs’ students repeat a grade.

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The report also reveals that system of care programs is associated with higher graduation rates among high school youth with emotional challenges. On average, 11 percent of youth with emotional challenges drop out of high school each year nationwide, compared to only 8 percent of youth in systems of care.

Youth involved in systems of care also reported improved emotional and behavioral outcomes, such as significant decreases in reported levels of depression and anxiety and significant reductions in suicide attempts. At 12 months, youth in systems of care reported a decrease of 62 percent in suicide attempts—a leading cause of death among U.S. youth 15 to 24 years old. In addition, 16 percent of youth reported lower levels of depression and 21 percent reported lower levels of anxiety at clinically significant levels than when they entered services.

“Improving the outlook for children with mental health challenges is a critical part of improving our health and educational systems,” said Eric Broderick, D.D.S., M.P.H., acting administrator of SAMHSA. “These data show that systems of care can be an effective means of revitalizing the lives of young people and reducing long term costly consequences of inaction.”

The report is being released on National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, SAMHSA’s annual demonstration of collaboration among numerous and diverse individuals, organizations, and agencies in the public and private sector working to provide greater access to community-based mental health services for children and youth with serious mental-health needs and their families.