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The School’s Role in Mental Health
Today’s school age children face more external pressure and stress than they did years ago. It can come from a variety of things…trauma, poverty, the technology explosion, social media, and even standardized testing. All of these stressors can contribute to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. What can be done to help decrease these rates in school age children? Some feel it is the school’s role to become more involved and help treat the children.
School-based mental health care has become an approach many school districts are trying. Mental health providers are housed in the school building which cuts down on problems with transportation, insurance coverage issues, and even long waits for appointments. The impact of this treatment is showing in fewer absences, less emotional problems, and in some cases, declines in suspension rates.
Some schools are also trying mental health screenings. These can be used after a crisis or in a preventive fashion. The screenings may reveal mental health or even substance abuse issues. A highly used screening is called the Columbia –Suicide Severity Rating Scale or the C-SSRS. It has been shown to accurately identify those at risk for suicide. Another resource available to many schools is The Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System(YRBSS). This survey helps identify behaviors that pose a health risk to students in a particular school. It also asks direct questions dealing with sadness, hopelessness, suicidal ideation, and suicidal intent.
Including exercise and mindfulness training during the school day are other approaches used in schools. School budgets have forced some to drop gym or recess for more class time. Lack of physical activity can actually have a bad effect on physical, as well as mental health. So incorporating time for exercise is essential for children, along with teaching mindfulness. Educators can help students learn how to breathe deeply, slow down the mind, and focus on the moment.
Involving the schools to help treat and identify mental health concerns is becoming very common. The schools’ everyday contact with children puts them in a place to confront the issues and try to help. Mental health issues are often revealed early in life, so the sooner a child receives treatment, the better the outcomes can be.
Lori Atkinson, Operations Assistant for The Kim Foundation
Lori Atkinson joined The Kim Foundation in May 2015 as an Operations Assistant. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from UNL in Middle Level Education. She was an 8th grade English teacher in the Omaha Public Schools for ten years and started a small non-profit in her husband’s memory in 2010. Lori assists with many of the day-to-day tasks for The Kim Foundation which includes scheduling presentations in the community, coordinating booths at conferences, attending mental health trainings, researching mental illness/suicide, and working community events. Lori is the proud mom of three children and is actively involved in her church.