ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (WJZ) — Howard County will use $2.1 million to expand mental health services in its public school system, which educates a total of nearly 58,000 students.

During a Wednesday news conference at Patapsco Middle School in Ellicott City, County Executive Calvin Ball said the funding will fill a gap for children and families who have historically had difficulty getting access to mental health resources.

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“Everyone deserves the same access to mental health care,” Ball said.

 Of the funding, $1.7 million will go toward the school-based mental health program over the next two years. Among other things, the program aims to make social workers available in all 77 of the county’s public schools to increase access.

The program is being paid for with $98,000 in American Rescue Plan funding along with contributions from the Horizon Foundation and the Kahlert Foundation, two local nonprofit organizations.

A separate expansion is going toward the “HoCo STRIVES Mental Health Initiatives” program. Ball has set aside $380,000 in his proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year for that purpose.

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STRIVES bring together several partners to help Howard County children succeed in school. The program’s duties will now reach into the realm of mental health resources, which include targeted case management, transportation, parent coaching, support for under- or uninsured families and intensive care.

We are helping to reduce the stigma of mental health treatment, normalize the process of receiving multiple support systems, and ensure that students have readily available access they need to maximize their academic success,” Superintendent, Dr. Michael Martirano said.

A 2021 survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Health found that 36% of high school students felt sad or hopeless every day for two consecutive weeks.

The study also found that one in five students, or 20%, contemplated suicide at some point over the previous year. That rate was disproportionately higher among Black students (37%) and LGBTQ students (57%).

“For all in our community who are struggling, please know you’re not alone. It’s okay to ask for help,” Ball said.

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If you’re in crisis or you know someone who is, please contact the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center 24/7 by dialing 410-531-6677 or text “HOME” to 741741.

Cristina Mendez