Dept. of Psychology takes initiative with improving mental-health among children

Written by Fran Hilbert, CAS communications intern

Miami's Center for School-Based Mental Health Programs (CSBMHP) has been a university-based center since 1998. Housed within the Department of Psychology, the CSBMHP aims to implement effective programs to improve healthy psychological development of children and to reduce mental and behavioral health barriers to learning.

The CSBMHP, which recently relaunched its website, brings together staff members, faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and community partners. Director Dawna "Cricket" Meehan, who has a PhD in clinical psychology, aims to integrate more of its work in the Miami campus.

"One of the most important goals of the CSBMHP is to provide schools and communities with comprehensive, strength-based, asset-driven approaches that emphasize young people's internal strengths, abilities, and potential in order to equip them with lifelong skills to be productive, successful, and resilient in the face of adversity," Meehan said.

According to its website, the CSBMHP's mission is helping "Ohio's schools, community-based agencies, and families work together to achieve improved educational and developmental outcomes for all children — especially those at emotional or behavioral risk and those with mental health problems."

In order to effectively achieve this mission, the CSBMHP offers several professional services, including technical assistance, evaluation and grant-writing services, assistance with policy/procedures and prevention, and professional development training programs.

"As a whole, these programs and services contribute to our overall goal of improving mental health in children," said Meehan.

Some areas of expertise that members of the CSBMHP manage include:

  • non-academic barriers (social, emotional, and behavioral)
  • school climate and culture (asset building, citizenship, cultural competency)
  • mental health issues (autism, depression, anxiety)
  • substance use and abuse
  • behavior management techniques
  • violence prevention (teen dating violence, child abuse, aggression)
  • bullying and cyberbullying
  • data-driven processes (e.g., needs assessments, program evaluation, outcome assessments)

Professor of psychology Amity Noltemeyer works with Meehan as the co-PI on two grant projects: Project AWARE Ohio and especially the School Climate Transformation Grant.

"The School Climate Transformation Grant focuses on expanding the use of a framework called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in Ohio schools," Noltemeyer said. "The goal of PBIS is to improve students' prosocial behaviors and overall school climate, while minimizing problem behaviors in the school setting."

Project AWARE Ohio has a similar goal of raising awareness of mental health needs among youth, she added, while also implementing services to improve well-being of students and their families.

"Across both of these grant initiatives, I have worked closely with Dr. Meehan and CSBMHP staff and students, as well as staff from the Ohio Department of Education and local education agencies, in a productive and rewarding partnership," said Noltemeyer.

Hannah Dinnen, a graduate student in her second year of Miami's clinical psychology PhD program, cites the CSBMHP as one of the major aspects of Miami’s psychology department that initially drew her to the program. She has been working on several initiatives at the CSBMHP.

In addition to Project AWARE, Dinnen is leading a project with undergraduates on a pro-bono meta-analysis related to anxiety and stress reduction. She is also developing a training program for school districts to address mental health issues in the classroom.

"The CSBMHP provides a lot of opportunities to learn different kinds of skills and get involved in a variety of work," Dinnen said. "It's been helpful to get to work on a larger scale project like Project AWARE, and the CSBMHP has some exciting potential grants on the horizon."

"It is a privilege to work with so many individuals who care deeply about fostering young people's strengths and assets, encouraging positive and meaningful connections between youth and adults, and ensuring that our nation’s children can be successful at school and throughout their entire lives," said Meehan.