9 Essential Mental Health Supports for School-Based Programs

Researchers have long known poor mental health negatively affects academic achievement, and the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on how schools can help address the issue.

Alongside partnering with nonprofits that offer tailored programs, experts recommend the following nine foundational approaches to caring for students’ mental health in schools.

Start with prevention and staff development

Schools should ensure psychoeducation around mental health is a priority in terms of the professional development of staff, said Janine Domingues, senior director of professional training of school and community programs at the nonprofit Child Mind Institute.

Educators can learn about indicators of poor mental health among students and know what signs and symptoms to look for based on their age and developmental differences, she said.

Understand your student population

Schools must take a close look at the sociodemographic characteristics and needs of their student population to provide culturally responsible mental health services, said Lauren Smith, clinical director of culturally responsible programming for Trails to Wellness.

While research has found positive mental health outcomes can happen without a racial match between students and mental health practitioners, such a match helps students form positive relationships with adults —  particularly for youths who need to develop social and emotional skills.

Create connection with students

Research shows the best way for schools to support students and prevent mental health issues among students is through safe, supportive and connective relationships, said B. Grace Bullock, director of mental and behavioral health for the Oregon Department of Education.

Integrate mental health into curricula

Students who are more at risk, such as those who experience depression and anxiety symptoms, benefit from small group discussions with a sharpened focus on skills building, Domingues said.

Students with a mental health diagnosis, or who are teetering on the edge of that, can benefit from more intensive services, including one-on-one counseling, while the group-based model is conducive to creating to  connection among students.

Use helpful technology

Smartphone apps can help students learn about things like mindfulness and relaxation, monitor their own mood, and be reminded of skills they can use during stressful times, Domingues said.

Technology is a great tool to provide mental health education to caregivers, who are more likely to attend workshops and sessions when they are offered virtually, she added.

Make cultural context a priority

On a basic level, mental health services and all related materials should be available in the languages students speak at home, the experts said.

Domingues added that it’s not about simply translating materials, but engaging experts to create materials that have the appropriate cultural context in different languages.

Acknowledge the effects of COVID-19

Bullock said it’s important to be careful around the language used to describe the effects of the pandemic. It’s widely known that groups of people — such as communities of color, service workers, unhoused individuals and people lacking financial resources — were disproportionately affected in traumatic ways, she said.

Provide suicide prevention training

Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention agree there is a myth that talking about suicide causes people to have suicidal ideation. Instead, thoughtful discussions about suicide can help prevent its occurrence by encouraging people to share their feelings, experts say.

Don’t forget mental health for adults

Schools must recognize the importance of encouraging good mental health among staff members and should foster a supportive culture in this regard, McGarry Klose said. This includes ensuring all staff members have access to mental health services, particularly if they are having trouble coping or have underlying or previously unknown mental health needs.

Excerpted from “9 Essential Mental Health Supports for School-Based Programs” in K12 DIVE. Read the full article online.

Source: K12 DIVE | 9 Essential Mental Health Supports for School-Based Programs, https://www.k12dive.com/news/mental-health-supports-school-based-programs/638691 | © 2023 Industry Dive
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