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School-Based Mental Health

Advocating for student mental health at the APASI 2021 Education Advocacy Summit

APA Services, Inc. (APASI) hosted its 2021 Education Advocacy Summit: Advancing the Role of Psychology in Education and Student Well-Being on July 25–26. Psychologists and graduate students joined APA Advocacy staff to learn about student mental health and meet with members of Congress to advocate for school psychological programs.

Cite this
American Psychological Association. (2021, October 29). Advocating for student mental health at the APASI 2021 Education Advocacy Summit.

Teacher doing an experiment with young students in a classroom

Impact as of November 2021

As schools reopened for in-person instruction during the fall of 2021, the 2021 summer Education Advocacy Summit proved particularly timely considering the increased recognition of the mental and behavioral needs of students. This is especially evident as advocates were able to successfully secure the introduction of a Senate companion to the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act, as well as increase co-sponsorships for both the Mental Health Services for Students Act and the Increasing Access to Mental Health in Schools Act.

Over 100 psychologists and graduate students from 33 states participated in nearly 150 meetings with members of Congress and their staff on July 26 to advocate for legislation to improve the availability of mental health services in schools. They focused their advocacy on three key pieces of legislation:

The summit began with welcoming remarks from APA President Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD, ABPP, and APA Chief Education officer Catherine Grus, PhD. They both emphasized the importance of student mental health and well-being, particularly as schools begin to return to in-person learning environments.

“Ultimately,” Kelly noted, “this is an issue of educational equity, as data show that students who receive social and emotional instruction and have access to mental health care in schools are also more likely to have positive academic outcomes and more long-term success.”

APA Chief Advocacy Officer Katherine B. McGuire, MS, provided an overview of the current political landscape and how it may impact congressional meetings. She emphasized some of the achievements from previous Advocacy Summits, including APA priorities receiving increased funding in a recent House appropriations bill.

Critical need for federal policies addressing student mental health and well-being

A panel of psychologists from the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education (CPSE) emphasized the need for stronger federal policy that addresses student mental health, learning, and well-being. Moderated by Amanda Dettmer, PhD, and featuring panelists Wendy S. Grolnick, PhD, Kimberly Howard, PhD, and Celeste Malone, PhD, the discussion touched on topics such as child and adolescent stress and anxiety, racial and economic disparities in education and in access to mental health, and supporting teachers and communities to ensure a supportive classroom environment. The panel also highlighted CPSE’s partnership with the Advocacy office to bring psychological science to PreK–12 education policy. After the panel, Kelly presented CPSE with an APA Advocacy Award for its leadership and advancing the impact of psychological science in PreK–12 education.

Hearing from Congress and the Department of Education

Summit participants had an opportunity to hear from outside speakers representing the spectrum of federal education policymakers. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Katy Neas provided an overview of the work the Department of Education is doing to address the social, emotional, and behavioral health needs of students, including those with disabilities. 

As part of the briefing on the legislative requests for the virtual Hill meetings, APA Senior Director for Congressional and Federal Relations Kenneth Polishchuk, MA, moderated a conversation with Daniel Elchert, PhD, an AAAS Science & Technology Congressional fellow working for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The discussion focused on work the committee is doing related to education and student mental health and how psychologists can best advocate for these issues with their congressional representatives.

Congressional Champion Awards

On behalf of the APASI, Kelly presented Congressional Champion Awards to Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), Rep. David Trone (D-MD), and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

Sen. Smith introduced the Mental Health Services for Students Act, which was among the legislative asks the participants advocated for. Smith has recognized the imperative to ensure that the challenges students face are addressed equitably as schools reopen for in-person learning. She is dedicated to health equity and has also been involved in other mental health initiatives such as expanding access to telehealth services in rural and underserved communities. 

“I believe there is hope on the horizon for students who struggle with mental illness, but they're counting on us to make that hopeful vision a reality,” she said. “I look forward to working with you to keep up this momentum and make sure that Congress moves these bills forward.” 

View Sen. Smith's acceptance of the award.

2021-07-advocacy-summit-screenshot Rep. Trone introduced the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act, another centerpiece of the summit. He is among the foremost leaders in the House of Representatives on “issues critical to the health and well-being of children and students across the education continuum,” as noted by Kelly. 

“As we know, this pandemic has only exacerbated the mental health crisis our nation is facing. An increased number of our children are suffering from mental illness as a result of the loneliness and loss caused by the pandemic,” Trone said. “We must work together, preventing these long-term effects, providing resources for our youth at such a young age is the best way to solve the mental health crisis.”

Rep. Fitzpatrick introduced the Increasing Access to Mental Health in Schools Act, which was the final piece of legislation advocates discussed in their congressional meetings. Fitzpatrick has been a leader in improving access to quality mental health services and comprehensive education. 

“Everywhere we have a physical health component, we ought to have a mental health component. We have school nurses to take care of the physical health of our students; we ought to have school psychologists take care of the mental health of our students. If we have physical health insurance, we ought to have mental health insurance,” said Fitzpatrick. “We have to end the stigma of mental health and end the stigma of addiction and treat physical health and mental health and addiction in the same realm—from an insurance standpoint, from an education standpoint, and from a political standpoint.” 

Reps. Trone and Fitzpatrick were also original cosponsors of the Tele-Mental Health Improvement Act, the Medicaid Bump Act, and the Medicaid Reentry Act, all of which show their dedication to mental health and widespread access to psychological services. 

View the Congressional Advocacy Awards ceremony with Reps. Trone and Fitzpatrick.

APA Presidential Citations

Kelly also presented Presidential Citations to Hideko Sera, PsyD, and Andres De Los Reyes, PhD, for their leadership in psychology education and dedication to improving the lives of children and adolescents through mental health and mentorship, particularly among diverse populations.

The Hill Day

On July 26, using the information they learned throughout the summit, participants met with 150 congressional offices to advocate for legislation that would improve school-based mental health mental health services and student educational outcomes. After their meetings, some participants took to Twitter to describe their successes:

Kimberly Howard, PhD, of Boston University, tweeted: 

Thank you @SenWarren and staff members Caroline Ackerman and Jessica Wong for your commitment to the mental health of our nation’s youth. @wendygrolnick, Susan Wagner, @APA #APAAdvocacy

The Idaho Psychological Association tweeted:

Thanks for meeting with us to discuss ways to improve children’s mental health in schools, @SenatorRisch and office staff! #APAAdvocacy #IdahoPsychologicalAssociation @APA @APAEducation

Vanessa Hintz, PhD, tweeted:

Thankful for the opportunity to participate in #APAAdvocacy. We were able to meet with congressional staff from the offices of @senronjohnson, @senatorbaldwin, and @RepFitzgerald about fostering the well-being of children and adolescents through school-based interventions.

For more information, contact Kenneth Polishchuk.