Tag Archives: school based mental health

How Are Some Students Raising Mental Health Awareness in Their High Schools?

PCLG parents have been spending some time these past few months learning about student-driven mental health awareness groups at area high schools.  It’s truly inspiring to hear how teenagers are leading efforts to erase stigma, create positive environments, and drive change in their schools and communities. Hats off to these students!Teensgroupcircle

Silver Ribbon Campaign (SRC)  – South High School, Minneapolis

SRC is a student-led group dedicated to supporting and educating students whose lives are touched by mental illness or who want to positively influence school culture.  SRC was founded 11 years ago by two students who had family members suffering from mental illness. SRC holds about 18 1-hour events throughout the year, most of which are held during the school day and involve invited speakers (students, teachers, and outside guests).

The group learns about mental health issues and has a field trip to the capitol each year to learn about advocacy and the legislative process.  Many students attend conferences and other meetings as representatives of SRC.

Silver Ribbon Club – Washburn High School, Minneapolis

The Silver Ribbon Campaign is a student led group focused on reducing stigma and raising awareness around mental illness issues. “We make it ok to talk about not being ok.”

Students  check in with each other and the group’s advisor at meetings but primarily work on planning mental health awareness activities, such as:

  • Guest speakers for students and also evening events for parents
  • Fidgety Fairy Tales performance
  • “Above the Influence” Campaign: Avoiding the pitfalls of peer pressure
  • Text number with free app for Washburn students to ask questions
  • Glass display case with information about depression and anxiety
  • Create of a video Public Service Announcement
  • Volunteered for other organizations that help teens with mental illness

HEART, Wayzata High School, Wayzata,MN

HEART is a student task formed a year ago by a student leader in response to a series of tragedies. Their main focus has been to create a positive school climate and raise mental health awareness, particularly for those students who might otherwise be overlooked or not connected to school activities.

They sponsored a Mental Wellness week, leveraging support from local businesses, the Student Council, National Honor Society and other existing student groups.

Activities included:

  • “Pay It Forward Day” – Students earned wristbands for doing good deeds
  • Professional and student panels and mental health workshops
  • Photo booth – Students held cards that answered the question “How do you do wellness?”

What Parents Wish For

ImageWe’ve been listening to stories from parents about the process of discovering and treating their child’s mental illness.  It’s inspiring to hear and see how so many parents are able to progress from feeling lost and overwhelmed to finding services and solutions for their kids, but the journey is never easy.  When we asked what could have made that process better, here are some things we heard:

Single Point of Entry – Once parents know they need to get some help, they have no idea where to turn.  Many report having made multiple phone calls with many dead ends. They are also surprised by how many applications and assessments they have to complete before their child can start getting help.  Parents say they wish there were one phone number to call and also some sort of guide to help them understand eligibility and other rules.

School Based Mental Health – Symptoms of mental illness often show up in the school setting where our kids spend a lot of their day.  Having a licensed, trained clinician on site at a school can make a big difference in the diagnosis and ongoing treatment of kids.  Parents don’t have to take time off work or take their kids out of school in order to drive to a therapy session.  Kids whose parents don’t have cars have much better access to services.  Moreover, these “in-house” clinicians can play a vital role in educating teachers and staff about techniques that work for each individual.

Hospital Services – When their child is in crisis, parents wish they could find appropriate emergency help that is close to home.  Due to the scarcity of hospital beds for mental health emergencies, children and youth can be sent to facilities that are hours away from home. Sometimes, young children can be sent to teen wards or teens to adult wards.  Moreover, there are often no facilities for families to stay nearby.

Stigma and Judgment – Parents often wish that they had learned more and acted sooner to get help for their child.  They wish that others had spoken out to encourage them to seek help, and not tried to “make them feel better” by minimizing their child’s symptoms. When they did seek help, parents wish that professionals would not immediately assume that they are bad parents or they are at fault. They wish to be listened to respectfully.

On the Problem of Avoiding

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When it comes to mental health issues, lots of people avoid them.  Teachers and school staff don’t want to bring up touchy subjects with parents, so they speak in vague, indirect terms, rather than confront the issue more head on.  Instead of saying, “Allison seems sad,” and stopping there, teachers should keep going. They may need to add, “The fact that Allison cries every day, does not seem to have any friends, and falls asleep in class regularly really concerns me.”  From there, a teacher might need to advance to: “You might want to have your child get an evaluation,” or “Your child may benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.”  If possible, a teacher could offer a list of therapists or low cost clinics that a parent could call.

Of course, this type of honesty has to be offered in a framework of caring and concern.  Even if the topic is introduced thoughtfully and gently, teachers still may experience major blowback from parents.  After all, navigating a child’s mental health issues is a very emotional experience and carries with it an implicit set of blame for the parents. No parents want to hear that their own kid has a problem.  But they need to.

If teachers don’t say anything or coaches or pastors or principals, then parents can continue to tell themselves that their child’s behavior is somehow normal. Avoidance can last for years, often until a devastating crisis occurs.  Here’s a new approach: let’s focus on avoiding crises instead.

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Access to Children’s Mental Health Care

Access to Children’s Mental Health Care

I was particularly excited when I read this study by Child Trends: Adolescent Highlight: Access to Mental Health Care.  They really captured what parents have been saying for a long time about

  • missed opportunities for early intervention,
  • difficulties finding providers
  • services that wait for a crisis before being triggered,
  • a system that is poorly coordinated and difficult to navigate AND
  • the important role that school based mental health services COULD play in remedying many of these problems.

Rather than Armed Guards, How About Trained Mental Health Professionals in Every School?

ImageWhen my teenager had a meltdown at school a year and a half ago, she was called into the counselor’s office to talk through what was going on with her.  This talk and this counselor really helped her that day and in coming weeks as more red flags emerged.  Over the next year, the counselor shepherded my daughter and my family through a mental illness diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

This counselor was not an academic counselor or a school psychologist, whose primary duty was to administer tests.  She was a licensed, trained professional employed by a community based mental health agency who worked from the clinic in my daughter’s school.

Once I learned the gravity of my daughter’s situation, we set up weekly appointments. My insurance company paid for these services, and I didn’t have to drive her to weekly appointments.  I didn’t miss work and she didn’t miss much school, but she got the help she needed. I’m happy to report she is doing much better these days, but some days are still a struggle.

There are lots of kids with mental health issues and most kids go to school.  Why not bring mental health services to kids where they are?  If we want to protect our kids, my money is on school based mental health, because it actually works. It works because more kids get help and they get it earlier in their illness.  It works because counselors can build trusting relationships with students.  It works because counselors can work with teachers to help students who are struggling.  These are things that actually help prevent mental illness from spiraling out of control into tragedy.

These are things that armed guards cannot do.