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The Importance of Taking a "Village" Approach to Mental Health Care in Schools

With a new school year underway, schools around the country are looking at new approaches to caring for the mental health of their students, and refining practices already in place.

The CDC estimates that one-in-five school children have signs of underlying mental health issues. Gone untreated or poorly handled, mental health issues can lead to a greater risk of students dropping out and serious issues throughout adult life.

Mental health experts agree that caring for a student’s mental health issues is something that is best started early to prevent further behavior and learning issues in later grades. “It’s during childhood and adolescence where we have a large concentration of mental-health issues, and school is where many kids are spending a large portion of their day,” David Anderson, a mental health professional with the ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, told The Atlantic. “That makes school the perfect place to focus mental-health resources.”

Mental health professionals in many schools are often overlooking a far too large number of individuals, making it more difficult to address and work the students in need. When a school lacks an adequate amount of mental health professionals, the issue of student behavioral problems is placed on already stressed out teachers. And many teachers simply feel overwhelmed when a student has serious behavioral and mental health issues. "Teachers are trained to teach,” Amanda Aiken, the Senior Director of Schools at New Orleans College Prep, told NPR. “We have all taken a child psychology class, but we're not trained to work with kids with mental health needs.”

The school system has adopted a “village” approach to addressing the mental health of their students, with teachers, school social workers, principals, and parents, all talking and working together to get children to address their issues, before bringing in a doctor or psychiatrist. “If you have everyone trained and take an 'it takes a village' approach, you can do a lot of preventative measures to reduce the risk significantly," Aiken said.

Schools in Indiana are taking a similar approach and under state law school districts must provide additional mental health training for teachers. With students spending almost as much time in their classrooms as they do at home, teachers are often the first ones to notice signs of trauma.

For mental health professionals like Indiana Youth Institute CEO Tami Silverman, it’s about addressing the issues of children before it progresses into more dangerous behaviors like violent behavior or suicide. “The reality is we still have to keep working to make those connections,” Silverman said. “We still have to be vigilant about our own child safety. We all have to be part of the conversation and be an engaged community.”

It’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of children are not getting the proper mental health care they need. And while there will likely never be enough mental health care providers in every school, when mental health care professionals have the opportunity to impart some of their knowledge on educators, it makes the entire school environment an overall healthier place.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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