The mental health of young people has been negatively impacted by the stresses of modern life. Today’s youth juggle classes, extracurriculars, family & friends. They may have part-time jobs or help look after younger siblings. In addition, they are faced with new sources of anxiety, such as climate change, gun violence, social media, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the Surgeon General of the U.S. referred to youth mental health as being in a state of crisis and called on the nation to respond.
Here in Pennsylvania, most districts participate in the PA Youth Survey, which asks students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 about their mental health and substance use, among other topics. In Lancaster County in 2021, 38% said that they felt depressed or sad most days in the past 12 months, and 27% said that sometimes they felt like life was not worth it. Responses from Lebanon, Chester, and York Counties were similar. Clearly, our children need support from their homes, neighborhoods, and schools in order to successfully manage modern life.
In Lancaster County, Susan Billy, Manager of Behavioral Health Support Services, and her team at the Lancaster-Lebanon IU 13 provide services, supports, and solutions for all learners, and offer this impressive list of ways that our schools are addressing the mental health needs of their students.
From the Lancaster-Lebanon IU13:
Student Assistance Program (SAP) Teams
The PA Public School Code requires schools to have SAP in place K-12. This is a team process used to mobilize school resources to identify issues such as mental health concerns and then connect students with the supports to address the concern. In the 2021/2022 school year 3,115 students were referred to SAP in Lancaster County.
These response teams leave their normal assignments and go to other school districts to crises happen. They’re made up of school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers. They provide onsite mental health stabilization and support.
- Lancaster County school districts, as well as a large majority across the state, have school-based outpatient counseling available for students.
- Universal mental health screenings are available in many of our high schools.
- Educational support groups are offered K-12 on a variety of topics, such as grief and loss or anxiety.
- Professional learning for staff on behavioral health, trauma-informed practices, substance use, bullying, and suicide prevention.
Most people are likely not aware of the many ways that schools are collaborating with government agencies and community organizations to address the mental health crisis. The following partners support students and their families.
- Let’s Talk Lancaster – Coalition of organizations working together to improve mental wellbeing
- Joining Forces for Children – Support for children impacted by family addiction
- Mental Health America of Lancaster County– Advocacy for children & their families at school, as well as support groups and in-classroom presentations
- Touchstone Foundation – Co-pay assistance for children’s mental health counseling
- Compass Mark – School programs to lower substance use and increase mental wellness
- Lancaster County Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (BHDS) – Case management for children with serious emotional disturbances, as well as intellectual and developmental disabilities
- Lancaster County Crisis Intervention – Assists schools and families when someone is experiencing a mental health emergency
- Lancaster County Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative – Partners with the Garrett Lee Smith Youth Suicide Prevention team to provide suicide awareness to school students
It’s important to keep in mind that the mental health issues faced by youth are treatable and often preventable. Focusing our efforts on available solutions like those listed above, and providing the support and funding for additional programming, will continue to turn the tide toward a happy childhood and a bright future for all students.
About the Expert
Susan Billy, MEd, serves as Manager of Behavioral Health Support Services for IU13. Susan earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Frostburg State University. She also holds an elementary teaching certification and earned a Master’s degree in Education, both from West Chester University. She began working in the Student Assistance Program (SAP), serving the school districts in Chester County, as a SAP Liaison, and then advanced into the role of Director of Student Assistance Program Services from 1999-2004. Susan also served for 15 years as HR Generalist at IU13, supporting staff and linking with services.
Through her role, Susan is actively involved in a variety of supports and services in the behavioral health field, including: • IU13 Flight Team Coordinator: Leads this local effort to provide crisis supports to students during traumatic situations. • Student Assistance and Behavioral Health Support Assessments: Provides strategic assessment of a school entity’s behavioral health supports. • Pennsylvania Network for Student Assistance Services Regional Coordinator for Lancaster, Lebanon, York and Adams Counties: Provides technical assistance to the SAP teams and their districts within her region. • Bullying Prevention Point of Contact for Lancaster and Lebanon Counties: Provides technical assistance to schools/districts which includes dissemination of information, resources and best practices, policy review and development, professional development, and needs assessments. • Former member of the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) workgroups for school safety and assessment criteria • Co-leads Lancaster County Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative with Mental Health America, Lancaster; and Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation (LOHF) • Member of Lancaster County Joining Forces for Children Advisory Council; Trauma Informed Lancaster County Education, Awareness, and Training work group; and Let’s Talk Lancaster: Behavioral Health Provider Action Team.
In addition, Susan initiates, develops, and maintains partnerships with state agencies, such as PCCD, PA Department of Human Services (DHS), PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), PA Department of Education (PDE), other intermediate units, school districts, external organizations, and agencies to enhance programs and services to IU13 districts and programs.
This post was originally published by WGAL TV 8 on www.wgal.com and sponsored by Donegal Insurance Group as part of the Mental Health Moment campaign. We thank WGAL TV 8 and Donegal Insurance Group for their support of prevention and mental wellbeing in our region.