Mental Health Care in a High School Based Health Service

Article excerpt


This paper describes the mental health services provided at a high school based health center that integrates mental health and medical services. Five years after the inception of the center in 1988, mental health visits had quadrupled. In 1992 alone, students made 1,002 mental health visits. Strikingly, one-third of these students reported problematic substance use among other family members. Other leading reasons for utilizing mental health services included pregnancy (19%), past or present suicidal ideation (14%), obesity (8.7%), ongoing depression (8%), and issues related to sexuality (7.5%).

Since the early 1970s, over 600 health centers have been established in American schools in order to assist with the management of medical and psychosocial problems of high-risk youth (Schlitt, Rickett, Montgomery, & Lear, 1994; Hauser-McKinney & Peak, 1994). Because of the particularly complex biopsychosocial problems faced by urban youth, the majority of these centers are located in poor, inner-city neighborhoods (Hauser-McKinney & Peak, 1994). Accessibility and the comprehensive services offered by a multidisciplinary team of professionals make school-based health centers uniquely suited for reaching large numbers of young people who otherwise might not receive medical or psychosocial services (Hauser-McKinney & Peak, 1994; Fisher, Juszczak, Friedman, Schneider, & Chapar, 1992; Lear, Gleicher, St. Germaine, & Porter, 1991; Siegel & Krieble, 1987; Allensworth & Kolbe, 1987).

Although school-based health centers have primarily been located in urban senior high schools, they are increasingly serving middle and elementary school populations as well as suburban and rural regions (Hauser-McKinney & Peak, 1994). Moreover, although these centers were initially established to meet the needs of pregnant and parenting adolescents in low-income areas, data have shown that reproductive health constitutes only a third of all services provided in some clinics and significantly less in many others (Harold & Harold, 1993; Fisher et al., 1992; Kirby, Waszak, & Ziegler, 1989; Siegel & Krieble, 1987). Other medical problems typically seen at these health centers include accidents and injuries, acute and chronic illness, nutrition and dermatologic concerns, and health screenings and immunizations (Fisher et al., 1992; Lear et al., 1991; Kirby et al., 1989; Siegel & Krieble, 1987). In addition to providing these medical services, school-based health centers identify and treat emotional and psychosoc ial problems, make referrals to specialists, and educate students on a variety of health-related issues.

Because risk-taking behaviors are now a leading cause of mortality and morbidity among Americans in general and youth in particular, it has become imperative that mental health services be fully integrated with the medical services provided in school-based health centers (Huizinga, Loeber, & Thornberry, 1993; White & DeBlassie, 1992; Lavin, Shapiro, & Weill, 1992; Orr, Beiter, & Ingersoll, 1991; Kirby, 1990). Mental health services represent a large part of those school-based health centers that include psychosocial services (Klein, Starnes, Kotelcheck, Earp, DeFriese, & Loda, 1990). Data from surveys of school-based health centers indicate that 79% offer mental health and psychosocial counseling, 76% offer family counseling, and 58% offer support groups (Waszak & Neidell, 1991). Results of a 1990 survey of 194 school-based health centers showed that 69% provide social work and 73% provide mental health counseling (Klein et al., 1990). Baseline surveys at schools that have centers have shown that substantial numbers of teenagers report such problems as drug use, anxiety, and depression (Balassone, Bell, & Peterfreund, 1991). As noted by Adelman (1993), research conducted as part of specific demonstration projects has produced evidence supporting the usefulness of a range of school-based mental health interventions. …


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