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 Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Adolescent Males of Color through SBHCs

By Jesse White-Frese
Executive Director, Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers, Inc.Jesse fuschia jacket.jpg

African-American and Latino males are half as likely to receive mental health services compared to non-Hispanic White youth, yet both groups experience emotional and behavioral problems that often result in school and social issues. In 2011, the Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers (CASBHC) conducted a study to understand how African-American and Latino young men perceive and experience available mental health services, particularly services offered through School Based Health Centers (SBHC), as SBHCs are generally more accessible to adolescents than community-based services.

African-American males are among the most underserved populations with respect to mental health services. Approximately 13 percent of African-American youth have a diagnosed depressive disorder. Among African-American and Latino adolescent males, less than 10 percent make use of outpatient mental health services. Of those that initiate community-based mental health treatment, the majority drop out after two to three sessions. The fragmentation of mental health services has been highlighted as a unique barrier faced by African-American males in accessing mental health services.

SBHCs are well positioned to address barriers to care and are able to provide easily accessible comprehensive medical, mental health, and dental services because they are on site in the school, serving students in grades pre K-12. The sites are comprehensive primary care facilities licensed as outpatient clinics or as hospital satellites. The medical practitioners are licensed to assess, diagnose, and treat medical problems including illness and injury, chronic disease management, immunizations, provide prescriptions, health education, and referrals for specialty care. The mental health clinicians are trained to provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues; crisis intervention; substance abuse; collaborative care management; health education; and case management. A unique feature of comprehensive SBHCs is the ability to integrate medical and mental health care within the same site.

A summary of findings from the study indicated that:

  • SBHCs remove or mitigate barriers to mental health treatment for African-American and Latino adolescent males including lack of transportation, lack of insurance, and stigma.
  • SBHCs provide an atmosphere of safety, confidentiality and trust; characteristics that are of paramount importance to adolescent males.
  • The most important factor in the success of the mental health services offered by school based health centers is the staff, perceived by students as open and nonjudgmental.
  • In Connecticut School Based Health Centers (SBHC), African-American and Latino adolescent male students utilize mental health services at an average of 13 visits per student in the SBHC. When African-American and Latino adolescent males initiate mental health treatment in community settings, the majority drop out after two to three sessions.
  • Greater access to appropriate mental health services can lead to better outcomes for adolescent males of color, such as higher graduation rates, fewer encounters with the juvenile justice system, and reduction in health care disparities.

For more information, contact the Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers at 203-230-9976.