Thousands of Houston area students will see increased mental health access thanks to a four-year, $4 million grant awarded to the city of Houston, officials announced Oct. 30.

Beginning in spring 2020, students in Houston, Pasadena, Spring and Sheldon ISDs as well as the charter, Raul Yzaguirre School for Success, will be offered free mental health screenings. The most urgent cases will be referred to a telepsychiatrist clinic or get connected with in-home psychiatric services to arrange home visits with students, said Laura Williams, Division Director of the Department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. The less severe cases will be referred to doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital, Legacy Community Health, and the Harris Health Center, and the Harris Health System.

"By the age of 14, half of the people who are going to have a mental illness have already been diagnosed," Williams said. "But only 1 in 5 children actually get the evidence-based care they need."

The program aims to serve 300 to 450 students at two to three schools in its first year of operation, Williams said. Once the screening process is perfected, representatives from Baylor College of Medicine plan to ramp up its implementation and reach more campuses and students per per year over the four-year grant period, Williams said. When the funding runs out, William said the collaborating entities hope to find new ways to support it.

“We are going to partner with school districts and a lot of the community mental health organizations here in Houston because what we know about children with serious and persistent mental illness is that they need a community approach,” she said

The grant, funded by the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is one of three awarded in Texas and 28 in the US. The programs are also supported by funds from the state of Texas provided through the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, an agency created by Senate Bill 11 in the most recent legislative session.