PAWTUCKET – State elected and education officials on Thursday launched a new mental health campaign that seeks to address mental health needs for students across Rhode Island.
Gov. Daniel J. McKee and R.I. Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green, along with local education leaders, introduced at Nathanael Greene Elementary School “Let It Out,” which connects students with school community members and offers mental health services throughout the state. The campaign, along with featuring people within school communities that students can confide in, offers classroom activities, educator tool kits, and other information and resources to help students cope with mental health challenges.
McKee and Infante-Green said “Let It Out” builds on goals initially set by Project AWARE RI, or Achieving Wellness and Resilience in Education. The program, with assistance from the R.I. Department of Children, Youth & Families, has expanded mental and behavioral health services within three pilot districts – Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket – from 2018 through 2023.
Project AWARE RI said those districts strengthened their capacity to increase the number of students screened, referred to and given access to needed mental health services. Out of 6,032 enrolled students in 10 elementary schools and one middle school within those districts, 3,057 were screened for services, 442 were referred to services and 325 accessed services during the program’s second year between September 2019 and September 2020, according to data from the R.I. Department of Education.
Additionally, Project AWARE RI recently received a second $9 million to launch a second cohort to include Cranston, West Warwick and Westerly, RIDE said.
However, mental health services still need to be expanded. McKee and Infante-Green said about 19% of Rhode Island children ages 6-17 have a diagnosable mental health condition and 10% have significant functional impairment. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem across the state, they said.
“Students cannot perform at their best unless they are in a safe and supportive environment,” Infante-Green said in a statement. “To improve school culture and student outcomes in the wake of the pandemic, we must talk about mental health issues with students, help them cope, and equip educators with tools and training they need. With the ‘Let It Out’ campaign, we are taking an important step to improve social-emotional and academic supports for our students.”