Societal, personal and academic stressors and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 pandemic are making it essential for schools to support the mental health of their students and staff like never before. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General recently released a health advisory addressing the student mental health crisis, putting out a call to action to schools and communities to address this issue head-on.
According to Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., U.S. Surgeon General, “It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place… Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable.”
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The Surgeon General’s Recommended Approach to Addressing Youth Mental Health
Fortunately, there are many things educators can do to step up for students in crisis. The health advisory lays out eight ways schools and educators can support the mental health and wellbeing of students in these trying times.
1. Strengthen School Cultures
Creating a “positive, safe, and affirming” environment at school will help students feel comfortable and valued every time they set foot on campus. Methods that can be used to achieve this culture include:
- Developing and enforcing anti-bullying policies
- Training students and staff to prevent harm, such as with bystander intervention
- Talking to students and families about mental health
- Using inclusive language and behavior
- Implementing feasible structural changes such as later starts to the school day that benefit students’ mental health
2. Expand Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
Implementing SEL programs is beneficial to students’ mental health development and doing so doesn’t have to radically alter educators’ lesson plans and schedules. Navigate360’s customizable SEL solutions are designed to blend seamlessly with any school’s existing structure, no matter what that looks like.
3. Recognize Signs of Trauma and Behavior Changes and Take Action
Educators are among the first to notice changes in a student’s behavior. When teachers can identify signs that a student is struggling with their mental health, they can move quickly to get the student the help and support they need. The quicker teachers take action to connect these students with the appropriate mental health services, the better the outcome will be.
4. Provide Mental Health Support for Students
Schools should always be ready to help their students get proper mental health care as soon as the kids need it. The Surgeon General’s advisory suggests linking up with providers such as the Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) program to help fund school-based practices such as:
- Mental health screening
- Early intervention and prevention
At the district level, it’s recommended administrators implement mental health literacy training for teachers and staff. Navigate360 Mental Health & Prevention solution provides comprehensive materials to help teachers and staff facilitate difficult mental health discussions with students, with flexible delivery options for personalization.
5. Add More Mental Health Personnel
Hiring more counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists can better equip schools to help students facing mental health challenges. Per the American School Counselor Association, schools should have at least one counselor for every 250 students enrolled. In 2021, however, the national average was one counselor for every 424 students at a school. It is recommended to seek local, state or federal resources to help make these hires possible.
6. Support Staff Mental Health
If school staff members are healthy and happy, they’ll be better prepared to help students with their own mental health. Schools can make their staff feel valued and boost their mental wellness with methods like:
- Establishing realistic workloads
- Maintaining stable staff-to-student ratios
- Providing competitive pay and insurance benefits
- Assessing staff mental health regularly
- Integrating mental health and wellness education into staff member’s professional development (Navigate360 SEL for Staff)
7. Connect Students with Behavioral Health Coverage
Helping parents and caregivers enroll with Medicaid and CHIP, both of which include access to behavioral health services, can be done with help from the Connecting Kids to Coverage National Campaign. Schools can also use Medicaid funds for enrollment activities and mental health services.
8. Protect & Prioritize Higher-Risk Students
While many students face mental health challenges, not all cases are created equal. Those in high-risk situations — such as children with troubled home lives, disabilities or trauma from adverse experiences — should be prioritized and protected to the best of a school’s ability.
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The growing youth mental health crisis is putting more pressure than ever on school leaders to respond and protect students before issues escalate, but they often lack the resources and training needed to do so successfully. Developed alongside industry experts in education, mental health and suicide prevention, Navigate360’s mental health and wellness solutions can help schools identify mental health concerns and provide support to students in crisis, preventing escalation to violence to self or others. These holistic safety solutions can also help with character development with robust social-emotional learning curriculum. Learn more about our solutions: