What mental health resources are available in Missouri schools?

Here’s how a Missouri school district is making mental health support more accessible to its students.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. – From years of COVID-19 isolation to recent mass school shootings, many school officials say anxiety among children is at an all-time high and schools are asking for help .

Rates of teen suicide, self-harm, anxiety and depression are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

School District Jefferson R-7 Response Specialist Steve Horn said the May 24 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas ignited a fire in him to make mental health resources for students a priority.

It comes as he has seen an increase in the number of student deaths which he says could have been prevented.

“The increase that we’ve seen across the county has often happened in 2018, 2019. There has been an increase in school-age suicides in our county,” he said.

The youngest at the time was under 15. Over the years, he has seen children as young as 11 struggle with suicidal thoughts.

“We’ve seen a large increase in anxiety and depression among our school-aged population,” Horn said.

Motivated by all of this, Horn helped develop a new mental health tool.

A waiver signed by a parent or guardian allows students to use the mental health self-screening tool. It asks students to answer various questions and, based on their answers, assigns them a level of risk. Once a student completes screening, they alert a counselor and connect the student to other appropriate resources.

It is a tool that has taken years to develop. It’s part of a new pilot program using about $700,000 in local, state and federal grants guaranteed by the county health department.

“It identifies the most appropriate services based on their level of need,” he said.

“What if they don’t have insurance?” asked Paula Vasan of the I-Team.

“It would filter out all the services that are available to them,” Horn said. “It identifies all the school services that are available to them, that would be available.”

The new mental health resource is being rolled out slowly. In the fall, it could be accessible to about 13,000 Jefferson County students.

RELATED: Jefferson County Health Department Launches Student Mental Health Platform

What Horn said his school realized was that about one in five students had thought about suicide. The administrators wanted to intervene earlier. The result is a resource that Horn says is revolutionizing how they identify when students need help.

Nine-year-old Nora Metiva is one of those students. Chelsea Koenig is his therapist. She sees her for an hour at school every week.

“What does Mrs. Chelsea mean to you?” Vasan asked.

“A good friend,” said Metiva, a fourth-grade student at Telegraph Intermediate School.

Metiva said her school therapist helps her navigate life with autism. Social interaction is a struggle for her, and it can make her anxious. Koenig teaches him to cope. Having this resource at her school has meant more convenience and more support.

Research shows that the average wait time for a behavioral health therapist in the United States is 48 days, according to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, a nonprofit organization.

On-campus therapists meant less paperwork and faster care. Nora was paired with Koenig in less than a week.

“What do you think every school would benefit from having something like this?” Vasan asked.

“I think they would see a big drop in serious issues like suicide, a drop in depression and anxiety,” Koenig said.

One of her biggest barriers to therapy is stigma, Koenig said. But it’s not among children. It’s with their parents.

“They’re scared,” Koenig said. “They don’t want their kids to be judged by anyone. They don’t want other people to know what’s going on, but it’s all confidential.”

The other major hurdle is funding.

“I would like to see the governor then create a line item in the state budget to help schools provide school mental health services to their students,” Horn said.

He believes more funding would help fill a desperate need. Research shows that about half of American children with mental health issues do not receive treatment, and Horn said that is simply unacceptable.

“It’s about simplifying this process which, in my mind, has been a bit too complicated. What is the need? How do we fill this need and what is the easiest way to get there? ” he said.

The governor’s office declined our interview request. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials said it’s up to schools to determine how they want to allocate the resources available to them and prioritize mental health. But many headteachers said that was the problem because it forced schools to choose between educational and mental health needs.

State Department of Education spokesperson Mallory McGowin issued the following statement to 5 On Your Side:

While local school districts must often prioritize funding for mental health supports and programs alongside other efforts in their locally established budgets, there are a number of resources, particularly through relief funds. that school districts can access at no cost to them.

A national survey of more than 2,000 American adults conducted online for the National Council for Mental Wellbeing found that 43% of American adults who reported needing addiction or mental health care in the past of the past 12 months have not received this care, and many barriers to access stand between them and the treatment needed.

About 1 in 6 young people have planned to attempt suicide in the past year, an increase of about 44% since 2009. This means that a young person you know has probably considered suicide somewhat recently, according to a spokesperson for Mental Health First Aid. , an awareness and education program that teaches individuals to identify, understand and respond to the signs and symptoms of a mental health or substance use problem to prevent it from becoming a crisis.

According to the National Library of Medicine, the median number of years from the onset of a person’s first diagnosis of mental health challenge to first contact with treatment is 11 years. However, the longer it takes to get help, the more difficult recovery can be.


The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has a list of mental health resources for school staff and students and an ABC guide to children’s mental health. The department also offers trauma-informed treatment models.

The Missouri School Board Association’s Center for Education Safety is a statewide resource available to all schools in Missouri. The center offers technical assistance, training and other resources on school safety.

The Missouri Behavioral Health Council has a network of Youth Behavioral Health Liaisons that community schools can tap into to help improve outcomes for students with behavioral health needs.

Missouri’s fiscal year 2023 budget included the following mental health-related initiatives:

  • $2.5 million for school safety programs.
  • $1.9 million for school safety enforcement programs for all school districts in the state that would provide 911 services and agents on and off duty through a force alert system of the order.
  • $1 million for safe school programs and behavioral health services.
  • $100,000 for a mental health coordinator at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline on 988. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a nationwide network of local crisis centers that provide free, confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are committed to improving emergency services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices and raising awareness.

Anyone seeking treatment for mental health issues should call the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 800-662-HELP (4357) or visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov.

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