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Mayor Harrell Announces Mental Health Investment Strategy; Directs $2 Million Toward Youth Violence Prevention in New Executive Order

Mayor’s plan for mental health investments will significantly expand telehealth access from 80 students to 2000, informed by best practices and hundreds of interviews with students, parents, and providers

Executive Order takes immediate steps to address gun violence affecting youth, directing new investments in violence interruption and safe communities, launching a “100 Days of Action” violence prevention campaign for the summer, and expanding initiatives for safe passages and afterschool and late-night programs

Seattle – Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a new investment strategy to support a coordinated approach to youth mental health and safety where families and students have easy access to care and upstream support for overall wellbeing. The mayor’s investment strategy is coupled with an Executive Order to address gun violence and improve youth safety, including an investment of $2 million toward violence prevention, intervention, and interruption and other steps to promote short- and long-term safety.

“Last week’s tragedy at Garfield and the trauma it has inflicted on our community further reinforces the need to protect and support our students and the most vulnerable – this is a comprehensive strategy informed by the community and by data that will make a difference when combined with community-based, upstream, and law enforcement programs,” said Mayor Harrell. “Young people deserve safety and support to thrive – these investments in youth mental health and school safety deliver on these priorities and calls for action from students, families, and educators. We cannot solve this alone, but the City has the capacity to convene the partnerships needed to make progress. With a One Seattle approach to bringing students, schools, and providers together, we can help kids who are struggling today while we continue to pursue the holistic strategies and investments at the state and local level to make long-term change.”

Students in Seattle and around the country are struggling with significant mental health challenges, and the scale and urgency of this crisis requires action, particularly as gun violence creates an environment where children do not even feel safe at school. The proposal will allocate up to $10 million towards youth mental health and safety outcomes for the start of the 2024-25 school year.

To guide these new mental health investments, the City’s Innovation & Performance team conducted interviews and focus groups over the last six months to understand the current state of youth mental health, what the City and others are doing already, and where resources could make the biggest difference. The City’s report on this research, “A Student-Led Approach to Mental Health Services,” identified five key insights from stakeholders and recommendations to improve prevention, early intervention, and treatment for mental health challenges following the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support framework.

The report recommends five interventions that are evidence-based, scalable, and effective in areas where the City is uniquely positioned to leverage existing youth programming, convene partners across sectors, and support community-level solutions:

  1. Improve Awareness and Access to Existing Resources
  2. Expand Mental Health Education, Destigmatization, and Early Intervention Training
  3. Expand Enrichment Programs that Address the Nature Deficit
  4. Implement Proactive Screening and Referral in High Schools
  5. Expand Access to Therapy

This investment strategy will begin this summer ahead of the 2024 school year, as further investments and actions are scaled up for 2025. The first mental health spending priority will be $2.4 million for telehealth therapy services, to make it easier to access appropriate care as well as improve the diversity of the provider pool, two critical gaps identified in research and interviews. This will expand access to telehealth from 80 students currently to over 2,000 as efforts are further refined and scaled.

“Our team spoke with partners across the school mental health ecosystem to understand where the City’s investments could make the most impact for students. Importantly, we heard directly from over 150 students about the very real challenges they are facing and what they need to feel safe and support their mental health,” said Leah Tivoli, Seattle Innovation & Performance Director. “We learned from students the importance of a proactive approach to help students navigate to appropriate care, in addition to providing treatment. Our recommendations connect student feedback with expert advice to design a coordinated system of supports centered on youth.” 

As part of this research, the City heard from many students, parents, and educators about the challenges of trying to learn while feeling unsafe due to concerns of gun violence, with a survey of 10th graders finding that 19% feel unsafe at school and 12% perceived handguns as available. This research directly informed Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order 2024-01 Addressing Gun Violence in Schools and Protecting Youth, which takes immediate and long-term steps to strengthen youth and community safety, including:

  • Convening King County, Seattle Public Schools, community-based violence interrupters, law enforcement and other stakeholders to develop and implement a “100 Days of Action” focused violence prevention campaign
  • Dedicating $2 million dollars this year in new funding toward youth violence prevention, intervention, and interruption programs informed by recommendations from the above groups
  • Expanding on current initiatives to support safe passage for students coming to and leaving their schools and afterschool and late-night programs at City facilities
  • Stationing police officers outside Garfield High School and expanding patrols in the surrounding neighborhood through the end of the school year
  • Taking steps to add CCTV cameras to the streets surrounding the school as part of the City’s Crime Prevention Technology pilot
  • Improving processes to identify students at the highest risk of being directly impacted by violence and provide immediate wrap-around services
  • Commissioning a 2024 report to track firearms and improve partnerships addressing dangerous and illegal guns with the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
  • Conducting research on best practices and community needs to improve safety in schools and exploring new partnerships between schools, community, law enforcement, and other diversified response options to meet current safety needs
  • Strengthening emergency alert protocols and expanding public use and awareness of the Alert Seattle notification system
  • Advocating for changes in state law to support supply-side intervention policies such as establishing a permit-to-purchase system and give cities the freedom necessary to implement firearm regulations and reduce violence by removing statewide preemption laws

As part of the City’s mid-year supplemental budget, Mayor Harrell is proposing a funding allocation of up to $10 million for 2024 to begin delivering these needed resources to support mental health and school safety, including $2.4 for initial telehealth services, $2 million toward violence prevention, and additional funding to support scaling programs based on capacity and feasibility.

“The youth mental health crisis impacts each of us and as a pediatrician I believe it’s essential to do whatever we can to help support the kids in our community who are counting on us,” said Dr. Shaquita Bell, Senior Medical Director, The Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, Seattle Children’s Hospital. “With its focus on prevention, early intervention, and treatment, I’m encouraged by Mayor Harrell’s plan and his commitment to provide funding, so every child has a better chance of receiving the support they need to live their healthiest life possible.”

The City’s Reach Out Seattle initiative, which launched last year, brings together key stakeholders to increase understanding and use of available mental health resources is a key part of this larger strategy. The program is grounded in research about the stigma students face in asking for help and bridges the gap between our youth and available mental health resources, working in partnership with community, youth organizations, healthcare providers, local businesses, and more. This June, Reach Out launched a public awareness campaign with a focus on prevention and early identification of mental health challenges. The campaign will spend approximately $70,000 in 2024 on a combination of public service announcement ads, transit ads, trainings, and other materials designed to reach youth and connect them with the help they need.

The City is committed to ensuring that every youth has access to opportunities that allow them to reach their full potential, and to the resources and help they need in times of crisis. This includes investing $24 million annually in youth enrichment programs like mentorship, academic support, sports activities, leadership skills, and teen life centers, and over $6.5 million annually in direct mental services and counseling for students. The City also allocated $1.75 million in one-time funds towards a Student Mental Health Supports Pilot program in select Seattle Public Schools.

The City is working closely with Public Health – Seattle & King County and Seattle Public Schools to explore scaling up school-based health centers and determine the best model to expand access to mental health providers and in-person therapy for middle-school and high-schools in the 2024-2025 school year. While some of these investments supplement existing programs, others will create new systems which will take time to build and scale up for the programs to be successful. 

As described in the state constitution, funding education is the paramount duty of the state of Washington, while the City of Seattle plays a supplemental role in youth mental health through both direct investment and youth enrichment. School districts in Washington are expected to receive, based on funding factors determined by the State Legislature, $554 million for Physical, Social and Emotional Support statewide in the 2023-24 school year, including $26.6 million directly for SPS. As the City pilots and expands programs, special attention will be paid to avoid duplication of efforts and to ensure services are coordinated, efficient, and effective to maximize use of scarce public resources.

What People Are Saying

King County Executive Dow Constantine

“Gun violence is a public health crisis that demands an urgent response, which is why I’ve asked King County’s Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention to develop a plan for ‘100 Days of Action.’ By taking collective action to promote access to mental health supports and to bolster focused intervention programs for young people we are strengthening collaboration between public health, public safety, cities, and schools. Together we will work to stem the harm gun violence is creating in our communities, and the Mayor’s announcement today is an important step in responding to this crisis.”

Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth

“I applaud Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order, which places an emphasis on late-night and after school programming for youth. In addition to timely, accessible mental health services in the wake of traumatic events, our youth also need opportunities to engage with their friends and fellow students alongside community leaders, elders, and other role models that will help set them on the right path so we see fewer instances of violence and conflict to begin with. I look forward to working with City of Seattle departments to create a robust series of youth programs that gets at the root of violence in our communities. I also appreciate that this order seeks to expand the use of emergency notifications to nearby community organizations in times of crisis.” 

Councilmember Bob Kettle, Public Safety Chair

“The Mayor’s latest Executive Order is an important first step in creating a comprehensive effort that needs to bring together all elements of our public safety resources and more importantly, Seattle’s school and neighborhood communities. There’s no easy or quick solution to fighting gun violence and protecting our children. We can only do this together.”

Dwane Chappelle, Director, Department of Education and Early Learning

“This investment is a much-needed boost for Seattle’s youth. We’ve seen strong demand in our schools for culturally responsive mental health services and are eager to expand access through school-based health centers, community partnerships, and virtual therapy to bring necessary supports to our students.”

Dominique Davis, Founder and CEO, Community Passageways

“I am so excited that we are seeing the investments for keeping our communities and children safe. This is something that the community has been needing for decades and we finally have a Mayor that is willing to make the kinds of investments that places us on the right path. With this type of investment along with a strategic plan that includes all stakeholders we will see the results we are looking for. Keeping our students and communities safe will put us in a position to imagine what it will look like to get to zero youth homicides. Communities of color have been plagued with a lack of resources that has led to violence for decades so now to see a commitment from the county and the city to address some of these issues gives me HOPE.”

Renée Hopkins, CEO, Alliance for Gun Responsibility

“Investments in youth mental health and community-led violence intervention programs are critical steps forward in reducing preventable gun violence and keeping our kids and communities safe. We are proud to stand with the City of Seattle, public health leaders, and community partners in pursuing local policies that will save lives, stronger state laws, and ensuring that state-mandated threat assessments and anti-bully programs are implemented and resourced in all Seattle schools.”

Dr. Leslie R. Walker-Harding, Chair and Associate Dean in the Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington; Chief Academic Officer and Senior Vice President, Seattle Children’s Hospital

“Today 1 in 6 youth are in need of mental health services, we must take steps to prevent this tragedy from continuing.  The best way to prevent this is to engage everyone in the community to understand what it takes to have our youth thrive, recognize a youth in crisis and know how to respond. Every door a child may go through has to be the right door to help and support. Whether a shop merchant, a coach, teacher or parent or friend, we all can make a difference. Reach Out Seattle is designed to help empower each Seattleite to be that open door in the same way Seattle created the now internationally renowned Medic One system which linked emergency services and resident knowledge of first aid and CPR. We can all participate in Reach Out Seattle to identify and support young people with mental health concerns. This will go a long way to foster youth thriving in Seattle and seeing all of our children and adolescents reach their highest potential.”

Dr. Janine Jones, Professor of School Psychology, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Education, University of Washington

“The Reach Out Seattle initiative has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of supporting youth mental health. By empowering the community with the skills to identify early warning signs of a mental health crisis in young people, along with providing practical intervention strategies, we can make a profound impact on the wellbeing of our youth. Reach Out Seattle’s new PSA campaign is not only amplifying lifesaving resources, but also destigmatizing the conversation around challenges with mental health. Due to this campaign, more young people will feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.”

Ted Howard, Accountability Officer, Seattle Public Schools

“Investing in these coordinated strategies and services holds the promise of significantly improving student mental health and ensuring holistic support across Seattle Public Schools, a beacon of hope for their recovery and resilience.” 

Sara Rigel, School-Based Partnerships, Public Health – Seattle & King County

“Public Health – Seattle & King County has longstanding partnerships with cities, schools and local health care organizations to support 35 school-based health centers in King County. This additional investment will expand access to mental health services for students in Seattle Public Schools. Students will have more options to address a variety of mental health needs through the strengths-based and holistic approach that school-based health centers provide.”

Ana Short, Behavioral Health Specialist, International Community Health Services

“There needs to be an improvement of current systems to be preventative and holistic support youth mental health. Also, there needs to be more opportunities to connect with and support youth in ways other than a more traditional therapy model, such as mentoring, low-cost/no cost activities, and social emotional groups embedded in schools.”

Dr. Britnee Harvey, Shine Light on Depression Ambassador 

“As an educator with experience working across various youth-serving organizations, I can attest that mental health challenges are real, widespread, and oftentimes ignored. I have seen both youth having a lack of access to mental health resources and mental health resources being underutilized.  As a mental health advocate and a partner in the Reach Out Seattle Initiative, I hope to train, educate, and equip parents, educators, and community-based organization providers on the importance of prevention and early intervention to help de-stigmatize mental health and address the challenges for our youth.”