Campus Community

Tackling the Youth Mental Health Crisis

Written by Andrew Binion

April 20, 2023

General campus shot with fountain in middle

Image credit: Yosef Kalinko

Seattle University College of Education will use a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to partner with Highline College and local high-needs school districts. 

In response to the growing mental health crisis among youth, Seattle University College of Education (COE) was awarded a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help address the shortage of diverse mental health care providers in public schools.

The five-year grant will support the project, called the Puget Sound Partnership to Expand and Diversify the Mental Health Service Professional Pipeline, and assist COE school psychology and school counseling graduate students with scholarships and other financial support. The grad students will work directly with students in local school districts.

There is a critical need to attend to the psychological, social and mental health needs in schools, especially in the wake of a global pandemic and persistent racial inequities in education and in school personnel, says College of Education Dean Cynthia Dillard, PhD.

“This federal grant will help Seattle University address this need by preparing diverse cadres of school psychologists and school counselors with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to provide culturally responsive services to young people and their families,” says Dean Dillard. “We are thrilled for this opportunity and the resources it provides to address this need. We are equally thrilled to deepen our core mission of preparing educational professionals and leaders who are able to create a more just and humane world.”

The team that led the effort to secure the grant includes Assistant Professor of School Psychology Jason Parkin, PhD, Professor and Program Director of School Counseling Mary Amanda Graham, PhD, and David Fainstein, PhD, assistant professor of K-12 Teaching, Learning and Social Justice.

The funding will also create a diverse pipeline of incoming graduate students from Highline College—recognized for its diverse student body—to meet the shortage of providers, while ensuring those mental health professionals match the demographics of the students they serve.

The effects of the project may be immediately felt, with plans to begin placing graduate students with local high-needs school districts in the fall for the start of the 2023-24 school year.

As the country emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Surgeon General emphasized the youth mental health crisis and especially the mental health of marginalized youth, but Professor Parkin notes the adolescent mental health crisis was underway well before the pandemic.

“It’s exacerbated by the shortage of school-based mental health professionals,” says Professor Parkin. “We’re proud that our school psychology and counseling training programs at Seattle University are in a position to address these challenges.”

In total, the program will result in 96 school psychologists and school counselors being trained and credentialed to service more than 5,200 students.

Professor Graham called the effort a creative and innovative project shared between the departments of school counseling and school psychology, saying it will establish a foundation of professional collaboration and connection in the field of practice.

“This grant will act as a pathway to support students from marginalized communities to serve high-needs schools,” says Professor Graham.

In exchange for a commitment to work in high-need schools after graduation, SU will provide meaningful, need-based scholarships and stipends to lower barriers to attendance and subsidize practicum and internship costs. Stipends can be used to pay for expenses like travel and childcare.

“I am most excited about using the majority of our federal grant funds to directly support SU students in their school-based mental health graduate programming,” says Professor Fainstein.

In addition to benefiting current SU graduate students, Highline College students engaged in four-year degree programs related to education and youth development will be recruited for the College of Education graduate programs in school psychology and school counseling.