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Mental Health Support in Schools Needs Reform; Here's Where to Start

Mental Health Support in Schools Needs Reform; Here's Where to Start

Mental health reform in America's school is such a "daunting" and imperative issue that a kind of overhaul for it will be a lengthy process that will change slowly over time, according to educator Laura C. Murray for Education Week.

One of those issues that Murray thinks needs to be tackled immediately is the issue of helping young people with mental health issues reintegrate back into the classroom after time spent away—an issue she says teachers are inadequately prepared to deal with.

"Mental-health challenges in young people are common, and they create major barriers to learning. But as is true with adults suffering from such problems, the young can and do recover—even those with serious challenges," she said, speaking on the importance of offering support in the classroom.

Though many inherently and intuitively understand the importance of helping students returning to the classroom feel welcome and accepted, there is little support to help do so on the ground.

To emphasize this, Murray gives the example of a story she heard from one teacher-candidate when speaking to a group specifically about mental health.

In her placement, aspiring high school teacher Molly talked about her experience with a young girl returning to the classroom in November after a suicide attempt resulted in her hospitalization and recovery time. The teachers of the 10th grade classroom were not alerted that the girl would be returning to the classroom, and therefore felt unprepared to help.

"The staff members were, as one person said, paralyzed by "a fear of saying the wrong thing." No one wanted to use the word 'suicide,' certain that it would upset the other students (or worse, 'give them ideas'). No one said anything to the student—or to each other—about how to navigate this unanticipated turn of events. Instead, there was silence," Murray said.

This silence continued when two weeks later, the young girl never returned back to the classroom for reasons none of the teachers knew.

"Molly and her colleagues still don't know whether the girl moved, transferred to another school, was re-hospitalized, or attempted to take her life again and, this time, completed the act."

In order to fix incidences of hopelessness such as this one, Murray says the attention must be turned to teacher preparation programs, where teachers should be adequately trained in working with students dealing from trauma.

There needs to be, she said, an emphasis on understanding how mental health issues can influence the student's relationships in school. There needs to be support for students returning when being confronted by peers about his or her situation. Teachers need to feel confident in welcoming returning students with open arms, all things that can be addressed with proper preparation. 

"This entire endeavor can seem beyond our capacity. But it's not. We need a coalition of committed educators, mental-health professionals, policymakers, and families to confront this issue collectively, and we need research to guide effective back-to-school interventions and supports," she said.

"Our youths deserve it."

Read the full article here and comment with your thoughts below. Education Week articles are available through a tiered-model subscription. 

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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