By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

The White House announced the awarding of the first of nearly $300 million to expand access to mental health services in American schools.

President Joe Biden secured the funding through the bipartisan omnibus agreement to expand access to school mental health services.

Biden also plans to encourage governors around the country to invest more in school-based mental health services, administration officials said.

“Our nation’s young people are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. Even before the pandemic, rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among youth were on the rise,” administration officials said in a release.

“The pandemic exacerbated those issues, disrupting learning, relationships, and routines and increasing isolation – especially among our nation’s young people.”

Officials said more than 40 percent of teenagers have reported that they struggle with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and more than half of parents and caregivers express concern over their children’s mental well-being.

“To address this crisis, President Biden put forward in his first State of the Union a comprehensive national strategy to tackle our mental health crisis, and called for a major transformation in how mental health is understood, accessed, treated, and integrated – in and out of health care settings,” officials stated.

Beginning in August, the Department of Education plans to start the process to disburse almost $300 million Congress appropriated through both the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the Omnibus to help schools hire more school-based mental health professionals and build a strong pipeline into the profession for the upcoming school year.

According to the news release, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will invest $1 billion over the next five years in mental health supports in our schools, making progress towards the President’s goal to double the number of school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals.

The administration has allocated the funding to two critical programs.

Those include the Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant Program, which will provide over $140 million in competitive grants to support a strong pipeline into the mental health profession, including innovative partnerships to prepare qualified school-based mental health services providers for employment in schools.

Additionally, the School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Services Grant Program will provide over $140 million in competitive grants to states and school districts to increase the number of qualified mental health services providers delivering school-based mental health services to students in local educational agencies with demonstrated need.

The White House said this will increase the number of school psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals serving our students. Some schools will gain mental health staff for the first time.

They said others will see this critical workforce expand.

“By increasing the number of qualified mental health professionals in our schools, and thereby reducing the number of students each provider serves, this program will meaningfully improve access to mental health services for vulnerable students,” officials asserted.

Other programs receiving funding include Fostering Trauma-Informed Services in Schools, Expanding Mental Health Services Through Full-Service Community Schools, and Responding to Childhood Trauma Associated with Community Violence.

“In just 18 months, President Biden has invested unprecedented resources in addressing the mental health crisis and providing young people the supports, resources, and care they need,” administration officials stated.

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