View from the Administrator
Youth Behavioral Health: Strengthening Families, Schools, Communities
By Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., SAMHSA Administrator
When people with mental health conditions or substance use disorders do not receive the proper treatment and supportive services they need, crisis situations can arise affecting individuals, families, schools, and communities. By working together and utilizing available resources, we can identify mental health and substance use issues early and help young people get the services they need before crisis situations develop. SAMHSA has made it a top priority to help youth, families, schools, and communities understand and establish the prevention approaches we know can be effective.
Two SAMHSA programs featured in SAMHSA News exemplify the kind of comprehensive, public health approach that reaches people early—in families, schools, and communities—throughout the country.
Over the last two decades, SAMHSA's Statewide Family Network has supported state-based family organizations that focus on improving programs serving children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances. The network achieves that goal by strengthening relationships among family members and coalitions consisting of treatment and service providers, policymakers and families. Recognizing that family members can be the best "change agents," the network promotes the idea of family-driven care, giving families a central role in deciding how to care for their children in their communities and in shaping policies that affect all children with serious emotional disturbances.
Since 1999, SAMHSA's Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative has expanded efforts into schools and included community partners. Designed to promote healthy child development, mental health, and safe school environments, the program brings together representatives from schools, law enforcement, the mental health system, families, and other community groups, as well as youth themselves. These partners then develop comprehensive plans that include early childhood social and emotional learning programs, mental health services and support for students, substance use prevention efforts, and violence prevention activities.
These programs work. Noting our nation's long history of addressing community challenges through collaboration and stakeholder networks, a 2011 White House report, Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism, applauded Safe Schools/Healthy Students as a model program. A plan released by the President in January, Now Is the Time, would build on lessons learned from Safe Schools/Healthy Students. The President's Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposed Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) which would help create state-school-community partnerships to promote efforts to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred to mental health services. Project AWARE would also provide funding for mental health and substance abuse literacy and awareness to help people know when they, their loved ones, their neighbors, or their friends need help for a mental health or substance abuse problem.
Activities to promote emotional health and prevent substance use issues in our families, schools, and communities help ensure that all young people get a chance to grow up to be healthy, productive adults. That's the best investment we can make in our country's future.