A support staffer meets with two children at the table
Students receive support on campus. Credit: Photo courtesy Communities in Schools of Houston

Communities In Schools of Houston, an educational nonprofit, celebrates this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month in May, part of a national campaign by Mental Health America around the theme “Look Around, Look Within.” MHA’s mission is to promote mental health and prevent mental illness through advocacy, education, research and services. In May, CIS team members will be raising awareness across campuses about the importance of good mental health, including coordinated activities.

For the past 43 years, supporting students’ mental health and well-being has been at the core of what CIS does. CIS of Houston, which continues to celebrate 10 years since the launch of its Mental Health Initiative, is the largest provider of mental health services for schools in the Harris County area.

With the MHI, CIS has been able to implement targeted efforts to collectively address the growing mental health needs on CIS campuses.

CIS serves 173 school campuses in six school districts across Greater Houston. At least one full-time CIS staff member (Student Support Specialist) on each partner campus ensures basic needs are met, delivering direct services, providing mental health services, and connecting students and families with much-needed community resources. During the 2021-2022 school year, CIS facilitated mental health services for more than 6,000 students across 94 campuses.

“A true mental health crisis exists among students in Harris County, Texas and across the nation,” says Shubhra Endley, LCSW-S, CIS of Houston’s Director of Mental Health & Wellness. “Many factors contribute to this, including lingering problems from the pandemic shutdown, bullying at school and on social media, poverty, lack of community resources, joblessness, loss of a loved one and domestic violence.”

“CIS mental health staff and our mental health partners fill in the gap by working with students and their families in developing strategies for living healthier lives,” Endley continues. She notes that CIS of Houston has made it a priority to ensure all campus-based staff members are trained in trauma-informed practices, Mental Health First Aid and suicide prevention strategies every year.

Statistics paint a picture of a growing problem in mental health, which is exacerbated by a lack of services in under-resourced communities. For example:

  • Mental Health America notes that one in six children experience a mental health disorder each year. It is estimated that 20% of Texas youth have a mental illness or addictive disorder that causes at least some level of functional impairment, while 5% have a Serious Emotional Disturbance that can significantly impact the child’s ability to thrive at home and in school.
  • In 2020, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD reported a 24% increase in mental health related visits to hospital emergency rooms for children ages 5-11, and a 31% increase for youth ages 12 in 17. In 2021, new requests for mental health outpatient services for children and youth in Harris County increased by 13% from the previous year.

“Mental Health Awareness Month reinforces the need for mental and behavioral health services from elementary school through college,” Endley says. “Since we are able to reach students and offer early support within the school environment, they may be less likely to develop serious mental health conditions later in their lives.”

Endley says according to the Texas Education Agency, school is the primary space where mental illness and social-emotional challenges are identified and addressed, outside of a student’s home. Nearly 70% of students who receive mental health interventions access these services at school. CIS urges students and parents to reach out to counselors and mental health specialists in their schools when the need arises or to seek out community resources.

Since 2012, CIS has continually increased the number of licensed mental health professionals on staff and has expanded its capacity to provide training and supervision to achieve licensures. CIS has solidified partnerships with mental health agencies to further support students. Specific interventions target grief and loss, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, trauma, verbal or physical aggression, suspected drug/alcohol use and conflict in the home.

Today, the CIS Mental Health Initiative has grown to encompass a three-part program of mental health support on the campuses served. Through CIS campus-based mental health professionals, the CIS Mobile Mental Health Team and mental health partners, CIS is able to provide counseling, facilitate support groups and make referrals to students and their parents. Partner agencies include Bo’s Place, The Council on Recovery, DePelchin Children’s Center, Family Houston, Montrose Center, Nick Finnegan Counseling Center and re:MIND.

Communities In Schools of Houston launched the Mobile Mental Health Team in 2019 to meet the growing demand for mental health support for students. The team of five licensed mental health professionals covers 32 campuses in five school districts to offer intensive mental health support for students throughout the school year.

At a time when the need for mental health services on school campuses is at an all-time high, Communities In Schools of Houston continues to ensure that the students it serves receive the professional support needed to survive and thrive. For more information about the Communities In Schools of Houston Mental Health Initiative, please visit https://www.cishouston.org/mental-health-initiative.

Throughout the month of May, in order to support and sustain Communities In Schools of Houston’s mental health programming, all donations made to CIS will go directly to the Mental Health Initiative. CIS relies on charitable donations to help to bring critical mental health services to students across the Greater Houston area. To donate you can visit www.cishouston.org/donate.

For more information about Communities In Schools of Houston, please visit www.cishouston.org.