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HHS Secretary visits Delaware on Strengthen Mental Health Tour, discusses need for help in schools

On Monday, Delaware was the next stop for the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services on his National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health. Secretary Xavier Bacerra gathered with lawmakers and stakeholders at the Nemours Estate to talk about what Delaware wants for mental health services.

“We heard some very dramatic things, but very American things today," Bacerra said.

At a round table discussion, Caesar Rodney High School Senior Andrew Celio shared his story, demonstrating a strong need for services in schools.

“When my school counselors found out about the way that I was coping, they provided me with weekly scar checks instead of the counseling I needed due to a lack of resources," Celio said. "It was really hard. One of the battles I had to overcome was the stigma that my parents always had that mental health wasn’t real and that it wasn’t a big deal and that people get sad sometimes. I wasn’t just sad though.”

Celio says policy leaders haven’t heard enough from young people about their own mental health issues and what they need amongst youth, emphasizing that young people need to be included more in the conversation.

And State Senator Sarah McBride added that students learn better when they are in a safe environment, with teachers and staff that look like and represent the student body.

This means increasing diversity in race, gender and sexual orientation, cultures and religions.

A common theme at the round-table was providing wrap-around services earlier in schools.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst touted HB100 which increased the number of social workers and counselors in elementary schools, so there is one for every 250 students, and one psychiatrist for every 700 students. And Longhurst says that’s still not enough.

“With that legislation, I found out that 86% of the elementary schools did not have social workers in their schools," Longhurst said. "That blew my mind. I don’t know how we expect to help children if we don’t provide the services for them. I went up and down this state and I listened to teachers. Teachers were not teaching. They were being mental health providers.”

Nemours President Dr. Larry Moss added that in the last 12 months, 1-in-5 children in the United States had a diagnosable mental illness, and 1-in-5 teenagers seriously contemplated suicide, what he says are staggering and unheard of numbers.

This tour is part of HHS' ongoing efforts to support the Biden-Harris Administration's whole-of-government strategy to transform mental health services for all Americans—a key part of the President's Unity Agenda that is reflected in the President's Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.