Sunset Beacon
December 2004


Supervisor Fiona Ma: Mental Health Services for Youth

The SF Board of Supervisors and the School District Committee held a special hearing Nov. 8 to discuss the state of on-site mental health services at San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) sites and to evaluate the needs and services currently provided.  Several experts, representing the Mayor's Office of Children Youth and their Families, SF Department of Public Health, SFUSD, various non-profit providers and professionals at various Wellness Centers and school sites, testified about the growing need for mental health services at all schools.

The following morning, as I read C.W. Nevius' column in the SF Chronicle titled "Principal's blunt look at teen suicide," I wondered whether the availability of on-site mental health services at Clayton Valley High School would have prevented its recent spate of teen suicides. It was very evident from the hearing the day before that a minimum level of mental health services should be mandated at all schools to address depression, stress, violence and other issues facing our young people today. 

About four years ago, Wellness Centers were created at seven high schools (Galileo Academy, Abraham Lincoln, Lowell, Mission, George Washington, John O'Connell and Thurgood Marshall) to provide free, confidential services to students, including health education and assessment; mental health and substance abuse counseling; support and empowerment groups; crisis intervention; and reproductive health services. Community-based organizations provide students with referrals to public and private health providers and educate youth about resources and services available both on and off campus. 

Mental health related services are also available at various elementary, middle and high schools throughout the City. However, given the band-aid approach to services, it was concluded that a SFUSD comprehensive mental health plan was needed to assess the needs at all schools, as well as to address and meet the severe needs of students at the county day schools, a specific concern expressed by Supervisor Sophie Maxwell.  

The recent passage of state Proposition 63, assessing a 1 percent surcharge on personal incomes above $1 million for mental health funding, could provide $50 million annually to San Francisco. School Board Member Jill Wynns suggested a carve-out of at least $3 million of the funds to expand the Wellness Centers at all high schools in San Francisco.

With these concerns and recommendations in mind, I submitted a resolution urging the mayor and the SF Department of Public Health to move forward with three actions: create a Proposition 63 Children and Youth Stakeholder Sub-Committee to create a comprehensive, child-specific plan for services; to dedicate a portion of the Proposition 63 funds to children and youth mental health services with a focus on prevention and for the funds dedicated to be consistent with the percentage of children affected in the overall populations; and that Proposition 63 funding should also be allocated for expansion of the Wellness Centers program.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a great increase in access to mental health services for youth in San Francisco. The reasons are many, including earlier identification of mental health issues by SFUSD, the presence of state-mandated services for special education students, the state Mental Health Parity Act and the growth of the Healthy Families and Healthy Kids programs. However, there is still much more that needs to be done if San Francisco is to meet its goal of being a family-friendly city. The actions we have taken jointly at the school district and the Board of Supervisors takes us one step closer to this goal.

Fiona Ma is a San Francisco supervisor representing District 4.