• Frequently Asked Questions
    What are the Benefits of SMH Programs and Services?
    Empirically supported mental health promotion in schools has been associated with:

    • Improved emotional and behavioral functioning
    • Reduction in discipline referrals
    • Improved attendance
    • Academic achievement
    • Cost savings


    Receiving school based mental health services has been shown to reduce course failures, dropout rates, and referrals to special education. Universal interventions are designed to address risk factors in entire populations and enhance positive school environments.

    Research demonstrates that school mental health programs and services benefit students, teachers, and the school at-large in the following:


    1. Increased Attendance
    When students' mental health needs are met, they are less likely to be absent and more likely to be engaged in and have a sense of connectedness to school.

    • Students with mental health problems are more often absent from school than those without mental health disturbances.
    • Reduction of alcohol and drug use is associated with better attendance rates.
    • Higher levels of school connectedness are related to increased optimism and academic outcomes and decreases in both depression and problem behavior.

    2. Better Academic Performance
    Students who are mentally healthy perform better in school.

    • Students with poor grades are more likely to be students who exhibit psychological dysfunction.
    • Students with serious emotional disturbance are more likely to be retained than other students with disabilities.
    • Trauma or violence exposure is associated with lower grade point averages (Ratner, et al., 2006) and lower school attendance.
    • Depression among youth is associated with lower academic achievement and school performance.
    • Students involved in violent or delinquent behaviors produce test grades one grade below their peers who are not involved in these activities.

    3. Higher Graduation Rates
    Unaddressed mental health problems significantly interfere with a student's ability to graduate from high school and obtain an advanced education.

    • Students with serious emotional disturbance or a diagnosable psychological problem are more likely to drop out and not complete high school.
    • Exposure to violence, even moderate levels of exposure, is associated with decreased rates of high school graduation.
    • Failure to attend college is associated with anxiety disorders exhibited by adolescents.

    4. Improved Student Behavior
    School-based intervention strategies play a role in identifying students with mental health problems as well as reducing problem behaviors such as fighting and bullying.

    • Most students in need of mental health intervention do not receive adequate services.
    • Schools have an important role to play in screening students for mental health problems and suicide risk.
    • School-based interventions targeting social and emotional learning can improve student achievement and behavioral adjustment.
    • Disruptive behavior in the classroom interferes with the learning of all students.
    • On average, elementary and middle school teachers spend at least 25% of their time addressing behavioral problems in the classroom.

    5. Positive School Climate
    School mental health enhances the whole school environment, or school climate, which can contribute to positive academic, behavioral and social-emotional outcomes.

    • Poor school climate contributes to a host of negative outcomes (e.g., behavioral and emotional problems, alcohol and tobacco use, and increased aggression) (OMHNSS Information Brief).
    • Interventions that address school climate have been shown to support academic success and increase positive behavioral social-emotional outcomes (e.g. academic achievement, educational motivation, attitudes toward schoolwork, attendance).
    • Findings suggest programs addressing school climate effectively promote mental health, reduce problem behaviors, increase school bonding, and enhance youth competence.

     6. Teacher Retention
    • School mental health supports working conditions in classrooms and reduces teacher burnout.
    • The national teacher turnover rate is 16.8% with urban schools averaging over 20%.
      • 46% of new teachers will leave the profession within a 5-year period. Stress among teachers has never been so high, especially given new accountability structures in place since the advent of No Child Left Behind.
      • Evidence is mounting that educators often feel overwhelmed and helpless when faced with the mental health needs of their students.
      • School mental health approaches support working conditions in classrooms as students'
    What is the definition of Mental Health?
    Mentally healthy children and adolescents may be defined as having the ability “to experience a range of emotions, possess positive self-esteem and a respect for others; and harbor a deep sense of security and trust in themselves and the world. These children are able to function in developmentally appropriate ways in the contexts of self, family, peers, school, and community. Building on a foundation of personal interaction and support, mentally healthy children and adolescents develop the ability to initiate and maintain meaningful relationships (love) and learn to function productively in the world (work).”


    The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.


    Currently, School Mental Health has come to be defined and understood as “any mental health service delivered in a school setting.” Within LAUSD SMH, these services may be provided on the school site and/or delivered via a myriad of specific programs. Please visit the Programs & Services tab to learn more.

    Why are mental health services important in a school setting?

    Mental health services are important in a school setting because many families meet challenges while trying to access services in the larger community. These challenges may include transportation issues, complicated systems and/or long wait lists. School based mental health resources are very convenient to families because parents and guardians can access the services where their child is already attending school. Additionally, school staff have direct access to mental health professional for consultation regarding students who may be in need of services. School based mental health professionals also a play vital role in managing crisis. School based mental health staff are trained to conduct suicide risk assessments and intervene in school wide crisis.


    How can students and families access services provided through School Mental Health (SMH)?

    If the SMH provider is located on campus, parents and school staff can consult directly with the Psychiatric Social Worker (PSW). Students and families are always encouraged to utilize the established referral system at their particular school. If students are in need of clinic based services, school staff and parents can work together to complete the appropriate referral form and forward it to the SMH clinic that is most conveniently accessible to the student and family. Click

    here to see a listing of SMH Clinics and Wellness Centers.

    How can my school obtain the services of a mental health provider?

    Schools have the option of purchasing PSW positions/time. PSWs provide school based mental health services based on the needs of the school community. SMH staff may be purchased on the following basis: part-time (1-4 days/week) or full-time (5 days/week). Many schools fund PSW positions using categorical funding sources. For detailed information about purchase agreements, contact the SMH Coordinator in your Educational Service Center. Click

    here for a listing of SMH Coordinators and contact information.

    How does optimal mental health impact student learning and achievement?

    When students are impacted by psychosocial stressors, such as exposure to community or family violence; substance abuse; neglect; depression and anxiety; parental incapacity, etc., their ability to fully concentrate and focus on the instructional program is negatively impacted.


    Often times, students’ energies are consumed with having to deal with these other problems in their lives. They may not have a quiet environment in which to study and complete homework. Some students may be responsible for caring for other family members, such as siblings or medically or mentally ill parents, which may take time away from their studies or school attendance. Other students may have undiagnosed and/or untreated psychiatric illnesses themselves, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a learning disability, that interfere with their ability to concentrate or learn. The examples described above all pose risks for injuring students’ overall school performance throughout his/her academic career if appropriate interventions and supports are not provided.
    Can SMH services help me as a parent or do they only offer services to students?
    SMH offers an array of programs and services. Some target students primarily and others are focused on the entire family. Consult with your child's teacher, principal, and/or other school support staff to help you decide what service is best for your particular situation.

    Do these mental health services cost money?

    No, all services are available at no cost to families whose children are students of the LAUSD. For those families with certain insurance plans, such as Medi-Cal, SMH may be able to bill those plans and receive reimbursement for the mental health services provided to the family.


    How may children encounter daily challenges that hinder learning?

    A 2001 report from the U.S. Surgeon General indicates that mental health is an important component of children’s learning and their general health. In the United States there are approximately 52 million students. Unfortunately, there is an increasing prevalence of students experiencing anxiety, conduct disorder, depression, learning/attentional difficulties, and other challenges, such as familial and peer relational issues. In many large urban school districts, the majority of students experience significant behavioral, learning, and emotional challenges.


    Current statistics indicate that approximately 15 million children in the United States have a diagnosable mental health or behavioral disorder, yet less than one third receive the treatment necessary to address and ameliorate problems (Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health). Eleven percent of these students demonstrate a significant impairment, with 5% displaying extreme functional impairment. Of this number, only 20% are reported receiving any mental health intervention (http://www.smhp.psych.ucla.edu/materials/topiclist.htm).
    In November 2005, the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released School Mental Health Services in the United States, a report based on its national survey of school mental health services in 2002-2003. This report revealed statistics about mental health that estimated 3-5% of school-aged children were diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder within a six-month period, 5% of students aged 9-17 years were diagnosed with major depression, and 13% of students aged 9-17 were diagnosed with a variety of anxiety disorders (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Moreover, this survey revealed that many children with mental health conditions do not receive any services. Of the 7%-8% who do receive services, services are rendered by from school-based providers. This SAMHSA study confirms that schools play an integral role in identifying and meeting the needs of students who require mental health services (Foster, Rollefson, Dockum, Noonan, Robinson, & Teich, 2005).
    Why mental health in schools?
    While there are many societal considerations involved in responding to this question, for the most part the usual answers incorporate either or all of the following points:


    (1) Accessing and meeting the needs of students (and their families) who require mental health services is facilitated by contact through and at schools.


    (2) Families are much more likely to utilize mental/physical health services if those services are located on the school campus.


    (3) Addressing psychosocial and mental and physical health concerns is essential to the effective school performance of some students.


    Implied in all three answers is the hope of enhancing the nature and scope of mental health interventions to fill gaps, enhance effectiveness, address problems early, reduce stigma, and fully integrate clinical and macro service efforts with general education, public health, and equity orientations


    How can mental health be embedded in the school improvement agenda and advancements in mental health?
    In 2001, the Policy Leadership Cadre for Mental Health in Schools stressed that advancing mental health in schools is about much more than expanding services and creating full service schools. It is about becoming part of a comprehensive, multifaceted systemic approach that strengthens students, families, schools, and neighborhoods and does so in ways that maximizes learning, caring, and well-being.


    Educators have an important role in helping to address mental health concerns. Schools are where children spend most of their day, making it a unique opportunity to identify mental health concerns early and to link students with appropriate services.


    However, schools cannot be responsible for meeting all the needs of their students. They must develop an understanding of what is involved in achieving the mission of schools; namely, instruction. After that, they must be ready to clarify how any component for mental health in schools helps accomplish that mission. Of particular importance is how proposed approaches help meet the demand for improving schools, reducing dropout rates, closing the achievement gap, and addressing racial, ethnic, disability and socio-economic disparities

    How can School Mental Health services help students, parents, and educators?
    Many students in school are preoccupied by psychosocial and mental health problems which impede their ability to perform at an optimal level, thereby impacting academic performance. Fortunately, countywide interviews and needs assessments, identified schools as being the natural setting where positive strategies can be implemented to reduce stigma and discrimination and emphasize wellness. School Mental Health staff can help students access linguistically and culturally sensitive mental health services.


    By promoting a safe, positive, and nurturing school environment and establishing a comprehensive school model that early identifies at-risk behaviors and provides systematic interventions at all levels (school-wide, classroom and individual), students are more available to invest their energy in learning, academics, and positive peer and adult relations. This comprehensive school model must include a mental health component. Educating students, parents, and educators about mental health issues will raise awareness; promote early identification and treatment; and improve academic performance.


    School-wide interventions and programs that promote whole child/family well-being and teach stress reduction and social skills to students can increase their sense of connectedness to their school. Increasing school connectedness can result in improved self-esteem, enhanced learning for children to choose positive alternatives to negative influences, and leadership skills. The use of universal screening tools and school-wide violence prevention programs, such as Second Step, has demonstrated reductions in office referrals, absenteeism, and bullying.


    The following illustrates how students and families can benefit from school-based mental health services:


    § Barriers to accessing services are reduced because service are provided on a school campus that is conveniently located in the family’s community

    § Addressing the needs of students comprehensively (health, mental health, social-emotional) increases a student’s potential to perform academically

    § Students and families are familiar with the school setting and staff, they are on their own “turf,” which helps reduce stigma that may be attached to seeking services in the larger community

    § Accessing students is easy as students are already in school

    § There is increased potential for multidisciplinary (i.e. teachers, administrators, psychiatric social workers, nurses) collaboration to ensure students’ needs are met

    § Behavior and academic changes can be readily observed, assessed and identified

    § Students and families are more likely to feel comfortable discussing their concerns with trusted professionals that they know

    § There are increased opportunities for student-staff interaction which helps builds trust and relationship

    § School-based mental health providers have increased opportunities to carry out mental health promotion activities with and for students via assemblies, school-based events, and classroom discussions

    § School-based mental health providers can influence the school climate via classroom education, staff development, parent education and the development and implementation of policies which benefit and support student mental health.