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We recently convened a group of counselors/social workers/administrators to discuss what they see as the most pressing mental health concerns in districts. Here is some of the information that came from the Focus Group:

 

How have the mental health needs changed in school settings in recent years?

  • Starting younger
  • More violent
  • Intensity
  • Kids stay in school with major issues – in past may have been home
  • More kids on anti-psychotic meds, in regular education classrooms – and often we aren’t aware
  • Parents are in mental health crisis too
  • Greater percentage of kids with mental health issues/anxiety
  • Incidence/Impact of substance abuse on kids with mental health issues
 

What are the gaps in terms of providing mental health services to students in your school/district?

  • Lack of understanding diagnosis
  • Transition of students back into district after placement
  • We don’t have full time staff in each building
  • Communication!
  • Reactive not proactive
  • Lack of empathy for kids/parents with mental health issues
 

What can school staff do in general in order to promote better mental health for students?

  • Systemically embrace mental health like we do with other things that matter. See it as central to our kids’ learning and success
  • Become educated about mental illness and the stigma that accompanies it
  • Adopt language that does not perpetuate the stigma and secrecy around mental illness
  • Through training have a better understanding of mental health issues – signs and symptoms
  • Awareness of mental health/illness and how it plays out in schools on a daily basis
  • Climate of the school – how are we doing? - Often compartmentalized
  • Understand different pressures students face now
  • Teach and model mindfulness to students
  • Encourage balance; minimize competitiveness in classroom, encourage collaborative learning to ease pressures
 

For staff?

  • Promote self-reflection
  • Allow culture that makes it ok for someone to voice they are struggling
  • Finding ways to appreciate/value colleagues
  • Down-time to “talk”
  • Teach and model mindfulness
  • Make it a focus for entire district from administration down
  • Staff development days/over structured – need time to re-connect
 

What should schools focus on in terms of mental health issues:

For students?

For staff?

  • Bringing parents into conversations
  • Team approach
  • Early intervention that’s family focused
  • Teaching kids how to handle stress, coping
  • Reducing stigmas
  • Name the mental health issues – explain and give coping mechanisms, give them power to handle their emotional wellness
  • Some of these are normal “issues” that you need to wade through
  • All have issues/struggles and ok to struggle
  • Educating parents
  • Confidentiality issues – (sharing between teachers to assist teacher in teaching)
  • Perspective keeping
  • Staff have permission to ask for what they need, when out of their league
  • Build empathy – look at whole student
  • Teachers – what brought you to teaching in the first place? – reflective piece
  • Expect to check in with school psychologist?
  • EAP classes
  • Explain what counseling is about
 

What kinds of training do staff need with regards to mental health issues:

In terms of knowing how to respond to students and/or staff?

  • Mandatory staff meetings
  • Triggers, what-why
  • Tolerance, empathy
  • Global issue not school issue
  • Strategies
  • How to access – referral form
  • Work as team, unifying
  • Helping them know when to seek help
  • Resiliency in addition to training
  • Ask staff what they need instead of telling them
 

What do you think your role should be in terms of mental health issues in your school/district?

  • Social worker versus school counselor
  • Truth tellers
  • Point people
  • Educate and advocate
  • Intervention, consultant and trainer
 

 

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