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U of M expert testifies on need for mental health services in schools

Photo via Flickr user derekbruff

Across the country, people are looking for answers to help ease the strain on our mental health programs and professionals. Now, some have started to believe part of the solution might be found in Minnesota’s schools.

A program designed to bring mental health professionals into Minnesota schools is currently before the state’s House Health and Human Services Policy Committee. The program was created in 2007, but funding currently only supports the services in about 17% of the state’s schools. A hearing on Tuesday, February 12, addressed a potential funding increase for the program, proposed by Governor Mark Dayton.

Speaking at the hearing, S. Charles Schulz, M.D., head of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, emphasized the crucial nature of early intervention when treating serious mental illness.

“We see between 30 and 40 percent of first episode schizophrenia before a student graduates high school at 18 or 19,” said Schulz. “A person in this state benefits significantly from early intervention and continuity of care.”

Expanding the state’s mental health services in schools program would not only provide qualified mental health professionals the access and ability to help students undergoing a mental health episode, but also provides the opportunity for an action plan to keep the student in class and on track.

Having this connection, particularly when it involves parents and an element of education, can demonstrate profound benefits when it comes to treating and supporting a student living with a mental illness.

“Continuity of care, and access to routine care, is one of the largest factors leading to positive outcomes for young people experiencing mental illness,” said Schulz. “Involving the parents and family and educating everyone about the illness and symptoms can go a long way toward preventing relapse and other poor outcomes.”

Schulz founded the First Episode Psychosis Program housed at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. This program is dedicated to helping patients undergoing a psychotic episode by assessing and treating the illness, and following up with an effective long-term treatment plan.

You can read more about this program and the funding hearing in the Star Tribune.

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