Legislative Developments for Improved Student Mental Health

Courier Newsroom’s news outlet, The Keystone, shared some good news for Pennsylvanian students. Moving forward they will be able to benefit from increased programs aimed at their mental well-being. These programs are also designed to prepare students for emergencies. 

Three Pennsylvanian lawmakers, Sens. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny), and Michele Brooks (R-Crawford), have introduced three bills. This includes the School-Based Mental Health Professional Internship Stipend Program, Senate Bill 1285, and Senate Bill 1207. It is hoped that these bills will increase the ability of students to deal with mental health issues by providing training to mental health support staff present in schools. 

Talking to The Keystone, a news outlet owned by Courier Newsroom, Sens. Williams said, “We’re facing a staffing shortage crisis across all areas of our schools, and that includes school counselors, nurses, and social workers.”

Managing the mental health of students requires well-trained staff. At the moment, the biggest obstacle in dealing with mental health challenges faced by students are the barriers faced by school-based mental health professionals in obtaining their credentials. Aspiring mental health professionals currently must complete 1,200 hours during a placement at a school alongside their studies to earn their degree. The situation is further exacerbated by low salaries and high student loan debts. 

To alleviate some of these challenges, the School-Based Mental Health Professional Internship Stipend provides funding to schools so they can pay a stipend to counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers that are interning as part of obtaining their degree. 

In addition to the challenges faced by aspiring mental-health professionals, lawmakers have also been made aware of the mental health crisis affecting younger people, worsened by the pandemic. “Even before the pandemic, students have been telling us that there is a growing youth mental health crisis. We’ve talked about how the pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in our students for over two years – it’s long past time we start taking action to fund the services that can provide immediate assistance to those students,” Williams told The Keystone. 

As a response to this growing crisis, Senate Bill 1285 will fund project applications that focus on students’ mental health. It will focus mainly on grants awarded by the PCCD School Safety and Security program. This bill has been introduced by Williams and Brewster and enjoys the sponsorship of eleven other lawmakers. The bill is currently with the Senate Education Committee. 

Another bill introduced by Williams, Senate Bill 1207, focuses on the emergency preparedness of students. It will require schools to conduct emergency drills to equip students with age-appropriate protocols and tools. This includes contacting the school nurse or other adults in case of medical emergencies, or locating and using the classroom phone. This bill is also pending with the Senate Education Committee. 

According to Williams the aim of this bill is not to impose an expectation on students to perform first aid. However, it focuses on teaching them to alert responsible adults in cases of medical emergencies. Williams believes that the skills taught as part of this program may save precious moments and potentially lives. 

About: Courier Newsroom is a media company focused on strengthening democracy through factual journalism. It operates eight-state based newsrooms, one of which is The Keystone. This news outlet covers news from Pennsylvania. The news is primarily focused on events impacting women and children in Pennsylvania.

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