October 11, 2023

Bridging the mental health gap

Kaiser Permanente’s partnership with Fontana Unified School District brings much-needed mental health services.

Bridging the gap for mental health services in Southern California schools is a win-win for everyone.

People who face challenges related to lower economic opportunities often experience higher stress and have fewer resources for coping. Children and youth experiencing this stress have an increased likelihood of poorer mental and physical health.

The demand for mental health services in schools has steadily risen. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, half of all mental illnesses start by age 15, and 1 in 6 youth age 6 to 17 experience mental health disorders annually. Students often face challenges ranging from academic stress to peer pressure or family issues that impact their mental well-being. Unfortunately, some schools lack the resources to provide them with adequate mental health support.

To address this gap, Kaiser Permanente developed an innovative solution in 2018 that places child and adolescent psychiatry fellows, a unique specialty in high demand, within Southern California schools that have inadequate therapy services and lower economic opportunities.

Easier access to mental health support

Placing psychiatry fellows in partner schools ensures students have easier access to care. Psychiatry fellows foster a supportive and inclusive environment for emotional well-being.

“The presence of on-site psychiatry fellows sends a powerful message to students that their mental health matters and that help is readily available when they need it,” said Kevin Guber, MD, director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program at Kaiser Permanente in San Bernardino County in California.

“Having psychiatry fellows onsite is a game-changer,” said Jeremy Chamberlain, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Fontana Unified School District in San Bernardino County. “It allows teachers and staff to focus on their core responsibilities while students' mental health needs are being addressed by trained professionals.”

Benefiting students, schools, and fellows

Psychiatry fellows help create a positive school culture where well-being is a priority, leading to improved academic performance and overall student satisfaction. Students can seek support without the stigma often associated with visiting an off-campus mental health facility.

Additionally, having psychiatry fellows visibly present helps students build trust and rapport, making students more likely to be open about struggles and seek the help they need. Also, many fellows go on to practice in the communities where they had their fellowship, helping to bridge the gap in mental health services availability and reduce the shortage of mental health care professionals.