Cortese: The critical need for comprehensive school-based mental health resources 
State Sen. Dave Cortese. Photo courtesy of the office of Sen. Dave Cortese.

As many students return to their classroom this season, parents, educators and legislators are rightly focused on efforts to address learning loss experienced during the pandemic. But responding to academic impacts brought on by the pandemic is only part of what is needed in our educational recovery.

There is no question that distance learning has produced significant consequences for adolescent mental health, which for many students have been compounded by a variety of factors. Afterschool and extracurricular programs, including sports, have been impacted, students have faced isolation and lost critical connections with their peers and many are carrying an extra financial burden as families deal with economic challenges and food insecurity.

At a time when our physical health is being discussed every day, we must ensure our mental and behavioral well-being is also getting the attention it deserves. And for students to be able to cope, timely access and new sources of support at their school site is critical.

As a former school board member, I have seen firsthand how school-based mental health interventions have improved the ability for families to find and navigate resources, helped them advocate for their child and increased student academic success.

Steven Luo, a senior at Evergreen Valley High School, said it best during this year’s virtual 18th annual “Sacramento Bus Trip for Education,” an event hosted by my office each year to uplift student voices:

“As a student, I can give you plenty of anecdotes of friends and classmates who feel stressed, anxious or even depressed, yet do not access services. Seventy-nine percent of youth and young adults experiencing mental health issues don’t access care. Unfortunately, these resources aren’t always readily available or there are roadblocks to access them.”

As Luo noted, nearly 50% of mental health issues are established by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 24. And the CDC has found that mental health-related emergency room visits have increased by 24% for those aged 5 to 11 and 31% for those aged 12 to 17. Having widely accessible mental health support services is essential for student well-being.

My colleagues in the state Legislature are also making student mental health a priority.

The success of school-based mental health programs such as “School-Linked Services” in Santa Clara County, with credentialed professionals available to meet the needs of students, is serving as a model for mental health partnerships between counties and schools across California. And I’m proud to announce that a budget request I made this year for the augmentation of the Mental Health Student Services Act grant program was approved and will allow for millions of other children and youth to receive mental health and emotional support through the “School-Linked Services” framework as they return to schools and everyday life.

This month, I was appointed to serve on our state’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission and I look forward to working in this role to continue to identify and provide new ways to meet the mental health needs of our community, especially our student community. The pandemic has only further revealed that we need to invest more in mental health treatment, diversion and education programs in our state to serve people of all ages.

Before I go, I’d like to ask you to consider taking this small action—share with a loved one a personal story about how COVID-19 has impacted your mental health. Speaking with others about mental health is an important way to remove any stigma and identify our own needs.

Senator Dave Cortese represents District 15 which encompasses much of Santa Clara County in the heart of Silicon Valley. Along with his accomplished career as an attorney and business owner, Cortese previously served on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the San Jose City Council and the East Side Union High School District board.

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