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Shapiro hears from area students about increased need for school mental health support

Students sit around a square table with Gov. Josh Shapiro.
Shapiro administration
Gov. Josh Shapiro meets with students at Hempfield Area School District in Greensburg Wednesday to discuss mental health.

Gov. Josh Shapiro visited Hempfield Area High School Wednesday to talk about mental health, and to tout budget proposals that includes $500 million over five years for increased mental health professionals and services in schools. And a few hours after the first-period bell rang at 7:25 a.m., student Nick Miller suggested another idea to Shapiro during a roundtable discussion: starting school later.

The policy isn't just popular with students. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., though few in Pennsylvania start after 8 a.m. And Shapiro said it was worth discussing with officials including the Secretary of Education.

“I don’t know if we’ll make that change, Nick," Shapiro said during a press conference after the conversation with students. "But we’re certainly going to have the conversation as a result of you raising that issue with us here today."

Officials can't afford to pass up any potential solution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls increased symptoms of depression in teens a crisis. And in 2021 more than 40% of students who participated in the state’s annual survey reported symptoms of depression. Of those students, 18% said they had seriously considered suicide in the last year.

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Shapiro is making the problem a budget priority. In addition to the half-billion dollars in support for schools, he wants the state to direct $60 million each year to help counties provide community-based mental health services.

The funding could be used to hire counselors or be used to facilitate "partnering with behavioral health providers to offer student services they need to best meet their needs," Shapiro said.

Shapiro said the students he spoke with were familiar with Safe2Say Something, the anonymous violence-prevention reporting system he launched five years ago when he was Attorney General. To date, more than 100,000 reports have been made through the app, and more than three-fourths of them were students reaching out for mental health support for themselves or a friend.

“That should tell us all we need to know about the fact that students need more assistance,” Shapiro said.