4 Ways to Address Mental Health in Schools

Tips to help you make mental health a priority at your school.

May 2017, Volume 40, Issue 9

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “up to one in five children experience a mental disorder in a given year.” But despite the fact that it affects so many, lots of principals have trouble addressing mental health issues. Results from a recent survey of the National Panel of New Principals show that only about one third of principals considered themselves prepared to manage student health and wellness.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, we’ve highlighted articles on supporting mental health from Principal magazine. Here are some tips to help you make it a priority at your school.

Maximize your school psychologist:
Students are more likely to seek help when they know it is available. Consider allowing your school psychologist, in collaboration with other school-employed mental health professionals, to provide age-appropriate education for students so that they know how to ask for help if they need it. For example, the school psychologist can contribute to a schoolwide anti-bullying initiative by educating students about respect and teaching specific strategies for appropriately addressing bullying situations. The school psychologist can also help individual students learn how to cope with significant loss, facilitate groups where students with deficits in social skills learn how to interact with peers, and regularly check in with students who struggle with behavior.

—“Supporting Mental Health,” November/December 2013

Support mental health for all students:
Schools that implement a comprehensive, data-driven school counseling program provide services to all students. It is proactive instead of reactive, and it is communicated to all stakeholders. School counselors develop program goals based on school data; these are addressed in core curriculum lessons, small group lessons, individual counseling, parent and teacher consultations, and various schoolwide efforts. A comprehensive school counseling program can improve attendance, student achievement, and graduation rates. Discipline referrals and dropout rates may decrease, while students’ problem-solving and decision-making skills increase. Programs such as PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) support all learners as well.

—“Mental Health Matters,” March/April 2015

Ensure your own well-being:
Part of the downside to leadership: it can be lonely at the top. What you can do is find time—and it may be outside the workday—to connect with other administrators who are doing what you are doing. It may boil down to, say, taking ten minutes in the evening for you to check in with these people on Facebook or to give them a call over the weekend. The question as a principal is: How can I forge a resourceful relationship with other administrators? Then, another piece relates to emotional well-being. Ask yourself which emotions are problematic for you at work. Specifically, stress and anxiety? How am I using those emotions instead as a fuel source to create a positive change in my work situation?

—“Teacher Wellness: A Conversation With Adam Sáenz,” January/February 2013

Offer grief support:
Society often holds an unrealistic expectation that children and youth “get over” death in a fixed period of time, such as six months to a year. But for many, the second year is harder than the first. The first birthday, holiday, or other special event without a loved one is difficult—but expectations are generally low and friends and family typically provide support.

When these events remain sad the second year, children may wonder if they will ever feel happy again. The support and concern they receive shortly after a death from extended family, peers, coaches, teachers, and other adults at school and in the community may have virtually disappeared by the second year. Principals should encourage staff to monitor students’ adjustment over time and share insights about strategies to provide ongoing support among team members.

—“Grief Support Is on the Way,” March/April 2015

To further help children cope with loss should, visit the Coalition to Support Grieving Students website, which features grief support advice and resources for educators.

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