By Dr. Sarah Davidon  – Research Director, Mental Health Colorado

Children are more likely to access mental health services if they are provided in school rather than in the community. While evidence supports this, significant barriers prevent many students from receiving the services they need.

In fact, even schools and districts with the best-laid plans to support mental health will find their school psychologists, social workers and counselors struggling to provide school-wide services. Funding, resources and time are just some of the obstacles that prevent schools and providers from being fully effective.

The daunting question professionals ask is: “How do we improve mental health services?” Many professionals recognize the need for mental health improvement without the knowledge of what concrete action steps they can take.

Mental Health Colorado has created a guide to support schools and advocates in communities who want to improve the services available in K-12 schools. It’s called the School Mental Health Toolkit. The toolkit provides strategies to support all students, as well as those who are at risk of mental health problems, suicide and substance use. It is not a curriculum or a program, but instead a guide for schools and districts to determine what mental health and substance use areas they need to improve. And it gives schools a set of strategies to implement them.

Toolkit users will be able to identify their school or district’s target areas of growth, explore programming suggestions and identify funding options. It outlines 10 best practices for schools, including screening, suicide prevention, positive behavioral interventions and more. Each district or school can use the guide to fit their needs. The role of the toolkit is to help inform decision makers in their strategies for implementation.

Many schools don’t feel equipped to meet their students’ emotional and mental health needs, but Mental Health Colorado is working to change that. Up to one in five children has a mental health issue in Colorado, which means that of over 900,000 students in public schools in Colorado, almost 200,000 children from preschool through high school experience mental health difficulties.

Early intervention in schools can lead to promising results, including reduced likelihood of depression, smoking, school absences and crime. Additionally, research shows that there are economic benefits of mental health support in schools as well. For every $1 invested in school mental health there is a potential return of $8 to society in the form of reduced crime, reduced acute and chronic mental health care and higher rates of employment.

By empowering families, teachers, mental health practitioners and community members to advocate for better mental health in schools, we hope to improve our state’s response to the mental health needs of Colorado’s children.

The School Mental Health Toolkit is available at

Originally appeared in the Denver Business Journal.