(The Center Square) — Rhode Island is receiving another tranche of federal funding to help expand mental health services for youth in the state's public school system.
The state Department of Education has been given a four-year, $7.2 million Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) grant to expand youth mental health services. The grant came from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s four year “Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education” project.
Gov. Dan McKee called the funding "a major step in improving and expanding youth mental health services across all 39 Rhode Island cities and towns."
Rhode Island received an initial grant from Project AWARE in 2018, which paid for launching new programs in Pawtucket, Providence, and Woonsocket school districts.
A $9 million grant was given to the state education department in 2021, allowing it to expand the project into school districts in Cranston, West Warwick, and Westerly.
The latest grant will expand those programs to more than 18,300 students in Chariho, East Providence, Newport, and Warwick, according to the McKee administration.
Recent studies support claims that mental health issues have exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among young people.
Lockdowns, business and school closings, and restrictions on social gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus, coupled with a lack of access to in-person services, exacerbated a mental health treatment gap, medical experts say.
Last year, a coalition of groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning that the youth mental health crisis is a “national emergency.”
A recent SAMHSA report found 12% of adolescents ages 12-17 said they had serious thoughts of suicide, 5.3% made a suicide plan, and 2.5% percent attempted suicide in the past year.
In awarding the latest round of AWARE grants, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the nation faces "unprecedented mental health and substance use crises" in the wake of the pandemic, especially among young people.
“Although rates of depression and anxiety were rising before the pandemic, the grief, trauma, and physical and social isolation that many people experienced during the pandemic exacerbated these issues," he said. "Drug overdose deaths have also reached a historic high, devastating individuals, families, and communities."