The Iowa Board of Regents has approved making the Iowa Center for School Mental Health a permanent part of the University of Iowa’s College of Education.

The center was launched about a year ago with a combination of $20 million in federal pandemic relief and state funds.

“Some extraordinary faculty here….spent the last year building the center and simultaneously responding to a multitude of crises across our state, including student suicide, teacher suicide and the murder of a teacher — and that’s just the very tip of the iceberg,” UI College of Education dean Daniel Clay told the Board of Regents. “The underlying mental health issues are quite extraordinary.”

Dr. Allison Bruhn, the center’s interim director, said there are long-term impacts if students don’t get the support they need, since at least half of Americans with mental health difficulties began struggling before the age of 14. “So that means we have a lot of kids in our country sitting in classrooms that are suffering from social, emotional, behavioral, psychological issues,” she said.

Bruhn also cited research indicating 16% of Iowa kids between the ages of 12 and 18 have a mental health disorder. “Less than half of them receive treatment,”
she said. “Over the last decade, there’s been a 53% increase in the number of students contemplating suicide and it’s the second-leading cause of death among adolescents.”

Bruhn said students are more likely to be disciplined and do poorly on school work if their mental health struggles are not addressed. The Iowa Center for School Mental Health is offering training to teachers and conducting research in Iowa schools to figure out what approaches work best to address students’ needs. University of Iowa officials say they started getting calls for help from parents and educators the day after Governor Reynolds announced the center’s existence during a news conference.