Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announces $2.1 million in funding for school-based mental health services. Photo courtesy of Howard County Government.

Howard County is expanding school-based mental health services in all 77 schools in the county amid rising pandemic-related mental health challenges among children and adolescents.

The county is committing $2.1 million to ensure that every student in the Howard County Public School system has access to mental health services for at least the next two years, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced at a news conference outside of Patapsco Middle School on Tuesday.

A total of $1.7 million will go towards expanding the School-Based Mental Health Program, which makes social workers available in Howard County schools.

Ball has also allocated $380,000 in his proposed budget to expand mental health services related to HoCo STRIVES, a program that aims to provide services to the county’s most vulnerable students and families.

HoCo STRIVES programs include psychiatric rehab, parent coaching, and a year-long training program for professionals, community members, and youth.

Young children and adolescents were among the most negatively impacted by pandemic lockdowns, as they were separated from peers and home from school during crucial developmental phases.

According to surveys conducted in 2021 by the Maryland Department of Health, 36 percent of Maryland high school students have felt sad or hopeless every day for two weeks in the past year. And 1 in 5 high school students seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.

Even before the pandemic exacerbated the mental health crisis, there was a gap in mental health services for students and young residents, Ball said.

“With this funding, we’re filling the gap for our children and our families who are historically not able to receive life-saving mental health care,” Ball said.

“Everyone deserves access to mental health care,” he added, “It is our collective responsibility to protect the health and safety of our young people and our residents’ mental health.”