Nine million dollars in federal grants coming into Montana is aimed at bolstering mental health services for students and their families. The grant announcement Monday comes as schools are beginning to understand how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting students’ mental health.
Holly Mook with the Montana Office of Public Instruction says the state applied for the funding prior to the onset of the pandemic.
"So the whole idea of the grant is the local education agencies, the districts will be able to provide new or additional mental health support to students who are identified as in need of the services.”
Mook says the state will utilize about $3 million of the grant to pay for student loan forgiveness within the Montana University System to encourage more licensed professional clinicians to come into local schools as well as technology programs for educating Montana’s students about mental health. Mook says the state is also looking to develop a model for how data on mental health outcomes for students is collected and reported.
According to the state’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the percentages of students having thoughts of suicide or feelings of hopelessness across Montana were on the rise prior to the onset of the pandemic.
However, district administrators like the Dillon Superintendent Randy Shipman say even just weeks into the school year, it’s becoming clear the pandemic is exacerbating the issue.
"I can’t say that we have any great data on where kids are at … I just know that our needs are definitely greater with, potentially, domestic abuse and suicidal ideation and those types of things."
Dillon is one of three school districts in the state that will share the rest of the grant dollars to pay for additional therapists and other programs that support student mental health. Shipmansays the funding couldn’t come at a better time.
Over the next five years, roughly $6 million will go to Billings Public Schools, Rocky Boy Public Schools and the Dillon Elementary School District. This is the second round of funding Montana has received from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In 2015, Browning, Kalsipell and Butte school district received the funding.