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Utah schools have a new tool for addressing mental health in kids

Posted at 1:09 PM, Dec 17, 2021

A new statewide project aims to address mental health needs and well-being of students in Utah Schools. It’s called the Utah School Mental Health Collaborative, and it's already making a big difference.

University of Utah Professor Dr. Aaron Fischer says, “We’re saying where are the schools at, where are their strengths? What are the thing they do so well? And, what are areas we can help support?”

A video about the project explains that the initiative, which started at the beginning of the school year, offers things like well-being screenings in the classroom.

The overall goal of the program is to provide training and technical support that will allow school districts across the state to develop effective mental health systems in their schools.

Dr. Fischer says remote support is key in this program's development and success.

“We learned this through the pandemic, we can provide a lot remotely, and so what we’re trying to do is provide technical assistance and support as well as direct services to schools we work with, like in San Juan County where we’re providing therapy.”

Dr. Fischer says they started working on this program several years ago, and it has come to life thanks to a collaborative effort by many organizations including Cambia, the parent company of Regence BlueCross BlueShield.

Dr. Jim Polo, Executive Medical Director for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah says when it comes to kids, “Development is all about learning and their emotions and their feelings and they often struggle. If you don’t address those things early, sometimes they can have problems that plague them throughout their life.”

Dr. Polo says in Utah there is a higher prevalence of mental health issues in children, and a lower percentage of those who seek treatment, which is why a program like the Utah School Mental Health Collaborative is so important.

“It’s like a double whammy - high prevalence, low kids going for services. That’s why it’s important to get the word out not only to children that they can get treatment, but to their parents who are usually the ones to get them into treatment.”

Dr. Fischer says in the future he hopes to see more schools taking advantage of the program. “Our goal is to build as much capacity and empower school leaders, community members, students, caregivers so they don’t need these supports from us.”

From technical support to psychiatric consultations, "Our goal is to help your child experience lasting well-being,” says Fischer.