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Publication #FAR1715

School Mental Health Services1

Suzanna Smith2

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National data from several studies show that millions of US children and youth suffer from mental illness, ranging in severity from daily sadness to major depression or suicide attempts.

Many children's conditions go undetected and untreated. Those who do get help are most likely to receive mental health services from professionals at their public school, such as guidance counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers.

In a recent report on school mental health services, the US Department of Health and Human Services presented the results of a national survey of public K-12 schools and district offices. Nearly three-fourths of schools "reported that 'social, interpersonal or family problems' were the most frequent mental health problems for both male and female students" (Foster et al., 2006, p. 2), and this extended across elementary, middle, and high schools. For boys, the second most frequent problem was aggression or disruptive behavior, and the third most common was behavior problems connected with neurological disorders such as ADHD. For girls, the second and third most common problems were anxiety and adjustment issues. Fortunately, several mental health services were available to these students at the vast majority of schools.3 However, services are often insufficient—nearly 70% of districts faced an increased need for mental health services at the same time that funding was decreasing (Foster et al., 2006). Over half of schools said that families could not afford additional services they needed, leaving many of our children at risk (Foster et al., 2006).4

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Foster, S., Rollefson, M., Doksum, T., Noonan, D., Robinson, G., & Teich, J. (2006). School mental health services in the United States 2002-2003. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services.



This document is FAR1715, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Broadcast as program 491 in April 2009. Reviewed January 2015. Published on EDIS July 2012. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Suzanna Smith, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


Eighty-seven percent of schools reported that services were available to all students, not just those in special education. One-fifth of students had received some kind of school-supported mental health services in the year before the study (Foster et al., 2006, p. 57).


Fifty-eight percent percent of schools reported family financial constraints as a barrier, and 49% said there were inadequate school resources.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.