Schools Promoting Mental Health
As a mental health professional with experience working in a school environment, I appreciate that schools play an essential role in promoting well-being and student mental health. The structures and systems in schools are uniquely suited to offer students the opportunity to navigate the everyday stressors of life, build healthy relationships, and develop a sense of self and purpose. In recent years, especially since the upsurge in child/adolescent mental health concerns, we have seen schools move in the direction of offering mental health education for students. My experience has been that this is best achieved by engaging all stakeholders through utilizing Tier 1 universal supports and practices to provide mental health education to all community members.
Implementing universal mental wellness and prevention education to students, parents, faculty, staff, administration, and board members ultimately establishes the foundation for delivering regular, proactive support, creates a positive school community climate, and serves as a broad safety net. Typically, the needs of students with acute issues land the most attention within resource-strained schools. However, Tier 1 approaches can be a school’s best opportunity to negotiate mental health concerns before they reach the point of extreme emotional and financial cost. When mental health resources are insufficient to meet growing needs, universal approaches benefit the entire school population. Additionally, universal supports foster common language and dialogue around mental wellness, ultimately cultivating a school milieu that encourages a supportive environment where help-seeking is encouraged.
Tier 1 approaches that provide mental health education should be all-inclusive and include numerous components, the most noteworthy of which are:
- Classroom Programs and Presentations (delivered throughout the year) that increase mental health literacy and reduce the stigma of mental illness. Relevant educational topics include recognizing the signs of depression, developing help-seeking skills for self/others, suicide prevention, the effects of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACES), improving family relations, emotional awareness and literacy, and self-regulation skills.
- Education for Teachers and Other School Staff around recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders inside and outside the classroom. Ideally, teachers and staff will create welcoming, supportive classrooms and develop skills for classroom-based wellness activities such as mindfulness and SEL instruction that foster self-awareness and self-care.
- Ongoing Professional Learning for School-Based Counseling Teams that include professional development and the opportunity to collaborate with outside clinicians in the community.
- Parent/Caregiver Workshops/Coffees for all families in the district to build mental health awareness and sensitivity and offer practical and emotional support.
I am grateful for Erika’s Lighthouse and its curriculum, which offers a suite of programs that provide all of these components and more to all stakeholders. At its foundation, a Tier 1 framework is supported by decades of research. Study after study confirms the positive outcomes for students and communities. In my work, I have seen the value of this approach and how it sets the foundation for the entire system – ultimately improving school culture, student-adult relations, and the structure to access education and support.
Erika’s Lighthouse is a not-for-profit that is dedicated to ensuring no young person feels alone in their depression. We are dedicated to creating a community of empathy and education. We create upper elementary, middle school, and high school mental health, depression, and suicide awareness programs so educators, families, and teens can create safe spaces to learn about mental health, letting students know they are never alone, and that there is somewhere to turn.