State grant buoys mental health work in schools

MARSHALL – Southwestern Mental Health Center, Western Mental Health Center and Woodland Centers each received a portion of $45.4 million in grants from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to help school-aged children in area districts with mental health issues.

“It’s really important, because the sooner we can identify these problems and teach skills to the kids the better understanding we can have of their mental health diagnosis,” said Sarah Ackerman, executive director of Western Mental Health Center, whose territory covers youth at Hendricks Public School, Lynd Public School, Fulda Public School, Milroy Area Charter School, Milroy Public School, Murray County Central, Redwood Middle and High School, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton and Prairie Five Head Start. “Early intervention is really the key to teaching skills to help the kids work within their means and have success later down the road.”

Southwestern Mental Health Center was awarded $800,000; Western Mental Health Center received $850,000; and Woodland Centers got $1.7 million.

Western Mental Health Center covers Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Redwood and Yellow Medicine counties and has offices in Marshall, Canby, Granite Falls, Ivanhoe, Redwood Falls and Slayton. Southwestern Mental Health Center has locations in Luverne, Pipestone, Jackson, Windom and Worthington.

Woodland Centers, a United Way agency, is located in Willmar and serves six counties in west central Minnesota.

Under five-year grant contracts with the department, 36 mental health groups will provide school-linked mental health services to some 35,000 students in more than 800 schools across 257 school districts and 82 counties by 2018, a news release from the Minnesota Department of Human Services said. More than half of those students will receive mental health services for the first time.

Ackerman said the grant money will be used to get into schools where a mental health practitioner can provide therapy to and work with students and their parents in a classroom setting after school hours. She said teachers and parents will be able to collaborate and discuss various treatment strategies for the students.

“The whole purpose of these dollars is to be able to provide mental health services right within a school setting,” Ackerman said. “That allows minimal disruption in the school day.”

The $45.4 million investment follows a commitment last session from Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature to double the capacity in schools for mental health early intervention and treatment services. Since 2008, the state has appropriated $4.8 million annually for school-linked services. In fiscal year 2014, funding was increased to $7.2 million, and in each of the next four years will be doubled to $9.6 million.