School-Based Behavioral Health

School-based Behavioral Health


The percentage of American youth with behavioral health disorders rose significantly in the last fifteen years. From 2005 to 2017, survey responses from more than 200,000 adolescents (ages 12 to 17) showed an increase in major depression, serious psychological destress, and suicidal thoughts. Currently, it is estimated that that between 12 and 22 percent of school-aged children and youth have a diagnosable behavioral health disorder. This was made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic; a study from the CDC showed that 37% of U.S. high school students experienced poor behavioral health, including anxiety and depression. During the first six months of the pandemic, behavioral-health-related emergency department visits increased by 24% for children between five and 11, and 31% for adolescents between 12 and 17. Schools are uniquely placed to address student behavioral health issues.

Schools are the places where students most consistently spend their time and the school setting offers a unique opportunity to identify and address behavioral health issues among students. SBBH programs bring care to students where they are, removing or reducing barriers to care, such as transportation, stigma, and scheduling issues. Adolescents are more comfortable accessing health and behavioral health care services through school-based clinics and like the idea of accessing these in a single location. Further, schools provide a natural setting trusted by families where students can receive needed supports and services.

SBBH programs can benefit the student and the school community. Undiagnosed and untreated behavioral health issues can significantly interfere with a student’s ability to learn, grow, and develop into adulthood. But mentally and physically healthy students are more likely to learn, to actively engage in school activities, to have supportive and caring relationships with peers and adults, and to solve personal challenges successfully.

Studies have shown that comprehensive SBBH programs enhance student academic achievement, build social skills and self-awareness, and strengthen connections to schools and communities. SBBH programs can reduce schoolwide truancy and discipline rates, increase the rates of high school graduation, and help create a positive school climate. Emerging evidence demonstrates that high quality SBBH interventions that include elements of prevention, early intervention, and evidence-based interventions are safe and effective in improving student well-being. Further, early identification and referral resources may contribute to a school climate in which behavioral health concerns and treatments are not viewed negatively.

Certified Peer Specialists

Many schools have bolstered their school-based behavioral healthy programs by incorporating Certified Peer Specialists (CPSs) as part of their interventions with struggling students and families. CPSs provide ongoing support to parents and students by promoting socialization, wellness, self-advocacy, and the development of natural supports. CPSs work from the perspective of their own lived experiences as a youth with a mental health condition and/or substance use disorder, or as a parent raising a child with a mental health condition or substance abuse disorder. A qualified CPS must be well-grounded in recovery with at least one year working toward wellness. CPSs work through CPS Programs and are trained and certified by the Georgia Department of Behavioral and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

Schools and districts wishing to use CPSs and/or set up a CPS program can view Georgia Appleseed's guide to legal and liability considerations. Draft MOU agreements and consent forms can also be found here.