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School mental health bills could help turn Delaware into a model for other states

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

A nationwide report card shows Delaware has work to do improving students’ mental health.

But new legislation could improve the First State’s grade.

A school mental health report card released by a group of advocacy organizations shows states across the country need to do more to invest in students’ mental wellbeing.

Delaware’s scorecard shows improvements needed in the amount of school counselors and psychologists on staff, and ensuring all students receive regular well-being check ins.

Angela Kimball is the senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Inseparable, a non-profit advocating for access to mental health care — and one of the organizations behind the report.

Kimball says they’ve found that half of all mental illness presents by age 14.

“So these are conditions that really arise when people are young,” Kimball said. “And we also know that the earlier you intervene, the better the outcomes — just like for any chronic condition.”

That’s why the report strongly advocates for implementing well-being checks for students, to identify those who may need more support.

But the state is making progress in that realm, with the passage of HB 100 last year, and three more bills introduced by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst this year.

“So we’re really delighted to see Delaware’s leadership in this,” she said. “Frankly, Delaware’s HB 100 last year that spells out an intention to increase the ratios of school mental health professionals is one that we are sharing with other states; and other states are looking at that.”

Longhurst is expanding on the success of HB 100 last year by bringing more mental health professionals into Delaware middle schools, further implementing mental health education curriculum, and requiring annual mental well-being checks for all Delaware students.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.