SAMHSA’s Efforts in Schools and on College Campuses

Learn about SAMHSA’s efforts to promote behavioral health among students and prevent violence and substance use in schools and on campuses.

Risk and protective factors that influence the behavioral health and well-being of children and youth can vary at each stage of a young person’s development. Search SAMHSA’s Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center to find interventions and evidence-based programs and practices related to schools. SAMHSA also offers several programs geared toward school-aged youth and young adults.

Now Is The Time—Prevention and Early Intervention

On January 16, 2013, President Barack Obama released the Now Is The Time plan, which outlines how the nation can better support the behavioral health needs of young people. SAMHSA has played a key role in supporting activities outlined in the plan, including developing and funding new grant programs.

The Now Is The Time Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education) builds and expands the capacity of state and local educational agencies to increase awareness of mental health and substance use issues among school-age youth. Mental Health First Aid training is also provided to help school personnel and other adults detect and respond to mental health issues in children and young adults, and connect children, youth, and families who may have behavioral health issues with appropriate services.

In addition, SAMHSA’s Healthy Transitions program improves access to treatment and services for youth and young adults aged 16 to 25 that either have, or are at risk of developing, a serious mental health condition. Individuals in this age group are also at high risk for substance use and suicide. Unfortunately, they are also among the least likely to seek and receive help.

Grants awarded under the Healthy Transitions program are designed to:

  • Increase awareness about early indications of serious mental health concerns
  • Identify action strategies to use when a serious mental health concern is detected
  • Provide training to provider and community groups to improve services and supports specific to this age group
  • Enhance peer and family supports
  • Develop effective services and interventions for youth, young adults, and their families as these young people transition to adult roles and responsibilities

Other SAMHSA programs include the following:

  • The Child Mental Health Initiative funds systems of care to create coordinated networks of public and private community-based, behavioral health treatment, which provide services for children, adolescents, and young adults who experience a serious emotional disturbance.
  • Partners for Recovery supports and provides technical resources for those who deliver services to prevent and treat substance use conditions and co-occurring mental health conditions. The Recovery-oriented Systems of Care (ROSC) Resource Guide – 2010 (PDF | 1.1 MB) explains how states looking to implement and finance the ROSC should consider the education community as a way to enhance activities and funding.
  • National Recovery Month has a variety of information and resources available on many topics related to addiction, treatment, and recovery. The 2015 Recovery Month Toolkit highlights how community leaders, including teachers, counselors, county officials, clergy, coaches, and volunteers, play a key role in promoting and educating their communities about the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery support services for mental and/or substance use disorders.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative which improves treatment and services for children, adolescents, and families who have experienced traumatic events.
  • The Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative is designed to prevent violence and substance use among the nation’s youth, schools, and communities. SS/HS promotes states and communities working together to address mental health among students, enhance their academic achievement, prevent violence and substance use, and create safe and respectful school environments. SS/HS manages the National Resource Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention, which prevents youth violence and promotes the healthy development of children and youth.

To help educators, administrators, practitioners, students, and parents keep young people healthy and safe at every stage of their developing lives, SAMHSA’s programs help address behavioral health issues in various educational settings—from preschool and elementary school, to middle and high school, and to college and university.

Preschool and Elementary School

Early, negative childhood experiences have lasting, measurable consequences later in life that affect overall health and well-being, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. The study indicates that early negative experiences such as exposure to violence and victimization can lead to anxiety, mood, and impulse control disorders and to risky behaviors, such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use, as well as risky sexual behavior, intimate partner and family violence, chronic and acute health conditions, and premature death.

SAMHSA’s Good Behavior Game is a classroom-based behavior management strategy for elementary schools that helps to reduce aggressive, disruptive classroom behavior, which is a risk factor for adolescent and adult illicit drug abuse, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, antisocial personality disorder, and violent and criminal behavior.

Middle and High School

Life challenges associated with transitioning from childhood to adolescence and on to young adulthood can be difficult, particularly for youth with serious emotional disturbances and/or substance use conditions. Mental health challenges and substance use, including underage drinking and the illegal use of prescription and over-the-counter medications, significantly affect the health and well-being of America’s youth.

Fighting, delinquent behavior, and substance use are prevalent among middle and high school students. According to SAMHSA’s 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • Youth engaged in fighting or other delinquent behaviors were more likely than other youth to have used illegal drugs in the past month.
  • Past month illegal drug use was reported by 17.5% of youth who had gotten into a serious fight at school or work.

The Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative is designed to prevent violence and substance use among youth, schools, and communities. SAMHSA’s Too Smart To Start initiative works with communities on the local level to promote underage alcohol use prevention messages that will influence the attitudes and behaviors of youth, their parents, and the broader community.

SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success State and Tribal Initiative is designed to address underage drinking among 12- to 20-year-olds and prescription drug misuse and abuse among 12- to 25-year-olds. The program intends to bring the Strategic Prevention Framework to a national scale. Learn about SAMHSA’s Now Is The Time Healthy Transitions program, which focuses on 16- to 25-year-olds and their families to help them to access and navigate behavioral health treatment systems.

SAMHSA provides several screening and assessment tools for mental and substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders. Other resources include SAMHSA’s guidelines for screening and assessing teens for alcohol and drug use issues – 2009.

College and University

College-age adults are susceptible to behavioral health conditions as half of all lifetime mental health disorders start by the mid-teen years and three quarters begin by the mid-twenties. SAMHSA provides grant funding to institutions of higher education to enhance mental health promotion, prevent underage drinking and substance use, and to address mental health issues such as suicide. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides information, research, resources, and practical examples for college and university personnel to support campus suicide prevention and mental health promotion. Learn more at the Suicide Prevention topic.

SAMHSA’s 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that full-time college students ages 18 to 22 participate in binge and heavy drinking at alarming rates. Visit SAMHSA’s “Talk. They Hear You.” Underage Drinking Prevention National Media Campaign that empowers parents and caregivers to talk with children early about the dangers of alcohol. Learn more at the Underage Drinking topic.

Several campuses are implementing SAMHSA’s Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment model to screen for alcohol and drug use and help students with mental and/or substance use disorders.

SAMHSA’s Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Program provides funding to institutions of higher education to:

  • Identify students who are at risk for suicide and suicide attempts
  • Increase protective factors that promote mental health
  • Reduce risk factors for suicide
  • Reduce suicides and suicide attempts
Last Updated: 06/08/2018