Mental Health Awareness: What PK–12 Districts and Colleges Are Doing to Improve Student and Educator Mental Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a national movement to raise awareness about mental health, fight the stigma, provide support, and educate others about resources available to help those in emotional distress. We understand the importance of initiating conversations and reducing the stigma around mental health, specifically in the education system. Giving students and faculty the right resources can make a big difference when it comes to awareness, spotting warning signs of distress, and referring a student or peer for support.
We’ve asked educators and administrators of school districts and universities to share with us what their schools proactively do to support student and faculty mental health.
What Can Elementary, Middle, and High Schools Do for Mental Health Support?
In the United States, 1 in 6 students between the ages of 6–17 experience a mental health disorder each year. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children ages 10–14. The number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing. To support students who are experiencing emotional distress and improve their mental health, schools and parents are coming together in a community-wide approach to build skills around mental health and well-being. Together, they are gaining the confidence to have impactful conversations to make a difference in a student’s life.
There are many approaches PK–12 schools and districts can take to ensure their students’ mental health needs are being met. The following approaches can create a safe and caring environment for students:
- Prevention, intervention, and professional development to understand the warning signs and indicators that a student may be experiencing emotional distress.
- Create positive connections with students.
- Understand your school’s student population.
- Integrate mental health into school curricula by normalizing these conversations and teaching coping strategies.
- Encourage the importance of good mental health to faculty and staff.
We asked Ilana Yakubovich, MA, RYT, Director of Health and Wellness at San Carlos School District, what her school does to support the mental health of students and educators.
“Each trimester, we send out health and wellness check surveys to all students. We use these results to build lessons or activities based on student needs for Grades K–8. We also build our own middle school advisory lessons, which are a combination of social and emotional learning (SEL); health education; community building; and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Lastly, we conduct health and wellness activities. For Mental Health Awareness Month, we will be building mental health kits.”
Kerri Geesey, Educator at Wallenpaupack Area School District, shared what her district is doing to support mental health:
- Opening Calm Rooms in all buildings for Grades 3–12 to help students relax and de-stress.
- Gifting every K–3 classroom with camping chairs for each student. After a long winter, students need to get some vitamin D, so they can take the chairs outside while teachers continue their instruction. Many teachers use this time to allow students to do their 30-minute independent reading as part of their reading curriculum. Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul!
- Creating a mindfulness project that includes yoga instruction and meditation practice. Their Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) has brought in professionals from the community to help instruct students and staff. The professionals then send staff updates on how they can keep the practices going continuously for their students.
What Can Colleges and Universities Do to Improve Mental Health on Campus?
A recent survey conducted by Timely, MD, found that 4 out of 5 (80%) college students declared a mental health crisis on campus. Seven out of 10 (71%) of students are experiencing mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, and/or depression. College students are meeting academic and social standards, finding a place where they belong, and in some cases balancing academics with being a student athlete. This emphasizes the importance of enhancing students’ skills and knowledge that lead to healthier behaviors, improved mental health, and ultimately creating a safe campus environment for all.
Colleges and universities today recognize there are many things that can have a detrimental effect on student mental health and well-being, so they are taking a comprehensive approach and doing more to reach students in a moment of need. Many institutions have enacted the following to supports for mental health:
- Creating a single space where a student can go to get in contact with someone who can connect them with the right type of support. Their challenges can include food insecurity, difficulty with classes, loss of income that could affect their ability to continue schooling, mental health issues, and more. Going to one place and finding the resources needed for one or more issues helps students to not get lost trying to navigate all the support options a college or university has to offer.
- Skill-building to help students be better prepared to navigate through the many different types of challenges they may face.
- Creating a culture of care by upskilling a broad community of support for students, faculty, and staff.
- Fostering connectedness throughout the student life cycle through interpersonal relationship skills, activities, and other community opportunities.
- Increasing access to mental health supports like peer-to-peer support, counseling, evidence-based programs and apps, and more.
Glenn Albright, Professor at Baruch College and Director of Simulation Research and Development at Kognito, shared what Baruch is proactively doing to support mental health:
- Enacting At-Risk Mental Health for Faculty & Staff to train faculty on how to lead conversations around mental health and suicide prevention.
- Providing a depression screening clinic for students to help them get a better understanding of their mental health and get the support they need.
- Conducting workshops and presentations teaching students how to make mental health a priority as well as sharing information about campus health services and counseling outside of the college.
Evidence-Based Kognito Products for Mental Health and Well-Being Support
Studies have shown that developing comprehensive mental health programs in schools leads to higher levels of achievement academically as well as teaches the ability to build social skills, leadership, self-awareness, and caring connections with the adults in a student’s formative community. Kognito’s evidence-based programs for educators, faculty, and students rapidly builds skills and knowledge to lead real-life conversations about mental health and well-being.
Practice-Based Programs for PK–12 Schools and Districts
Our Mental Health & Well-being Suite, consisting of 6 interactive programs, offers districts an easy-to-implement, accessible, and scalable approach to creating a safe learning environment for students, educators, and staff. This suite covers the topics of mental health, suicide prevention, trauma-informed practices, and substance use prevention, to strengthen and support everyone.
Learn more about the Mental Health & Well-being Suite here.
Evidence-Based Online Solutions for Higher Education
Our Mental Health Suite for colleges and universities prepares faculty, staff, and students to lead real-life conversations about mental health and suicide prevention. These programs build resilience, a strong campus culture, and strengthen relationships. In addition, these training programs drive sustainable changes in behaviors that support academic performance, student retention, and campus safety.
Learn more about the Mental Health Suite here.
Together, we can continue to spread awareness and resources to support mental health. Learn more about Mental Health Awareness Month at mhanational.org/mental-health-month and discover how Kognito’s evidence-based programs can provide mental health support to your district or university at kognito.com.