The Role of Schools in Supporting Children’s Mental Health
May 7th is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and in honor of this day, we’re highlighting the vital role that schools and school communities play in supporting children’s mental health, from prevention to intervention.
We recently interviewed Dr. Shashank V. Joshi, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Education at Stanford University, who spoke with us about the role of schools in supporting mental health to inform this post.
Why Mental Health Matters to Schools
Schools are not mental health centers, yet they are charged with attending to the mental health of members of the school community. That is because, as Dr. Joshi said, “Mental health is part of overall health, and our children have to be healthy enough to learn, and our teachers healthy enough to teach.”
We know that untreated mental illnesses can interfere with a child’s ability to learn and develop. In the U.S., as many as one in six children ages 6-17 has a treatable mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety problems or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nearly half of them don’t get the treatment they need, which is why social emotional learning (SEL) and mental health services and programs are top priorities for schools today.
Prevention: How Schools Can Promote Emotional Well-being
Schools have a role to play in promoting well-being, particularly by fostering meaningful connections. Children who feel a sense of connection and belonging are more likely to do well in school, stay in school, and make healthy choices.
Think back to your favorite teacher. It may not have been the subject they taught that made them your favorite — it was the connection you had with them. You felt supported and safe in their classroom. This positive teacher-student connection can make children feel more motivated to learn, and make them less likely to miss class, whereas poor relationships between students and teachers increase the likelihood of childhood psychiatric disorders and low academic achievement.
It’s not only the students who should feel connected. Parent engagement in schools has been linked to better student behavior, higher academic achievement, and enhanced social skills. Dr. Joshi shared that a simple and impactful way to facilitate this connection is to encourage teachers to call every student’s parent or caregiver at the start of the school year. This starts the parent-teacher relationship and establishes trust, allowing for greater collaboration throughout the school year.
“We know a little about what this child brings into the classroom and who they are in my classroom … but who are they really as a human outside my classroom? Where do they live? Who are the people they connect with? Who else is in the house? What do they like to do?” Dr. Joshi said. “If we’re going to have some role in prevention of mental health issues later on, we first have to listen and understand who this child is in the context of their daily life.”
“If we’re going to have some role in prevention of mental health issues later on, we first have to listen and understand who this child is in the context of their daily life.” – Shashank V. Joshi, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Education at Stanford University
Intervention: Why Schools Can Effectively Identify and Reach At-Risk Children
Children spend a lot of their time in the classroom, which makes educators well-positioned to detect warning signs for early identification and intervention.
Even in schools with robust mental health services, teachers play an important role in identifying at-risk students. Mental health professionals don’t see students in their everyday environment the way teachers do. They can spot behavior changes, and when they understand when and how to intervene, they can connect them to the support they need.
By identifying problems as early as possible, schools can help:
- Prevent the problem from worsening
- Reduce the impact on a student’s social and academic life
- Connect students with appropriate support resources
As of 2018, nearly 40% of public schools provided treatment to students for mental health disorders. In these 42,200 schools, students who may not otherwise have access to treatment can receive potentially life-changing help.
Giving Teachers the Tools to Help Them Better Support Students
Most teachers choose a career in education because they genuinely want to help children. In fact, a UK-based survey found that 93% of teachers were drawn to the profession because they wanted to make a difference in students’ lives.
Another study found that nearly all educators have a high level of concern for student mental health, but 85% see a need for further training.
“As a teacher, I need some tools that allow me to do what I was hired to do, which is to reach and teach all my students,” said Dr. Joshi. “A really important part of that is for us as a community to say, ‘What are the tools available that have been shown to be helpful for teachers to feel that they can reach and teach all their students?’”
At-Risk and Mental Health & Well-being Suite of Interactive Learning Experiences Gives Educators Confidence to Address Student Mental Health
Kognito’s At-Risk suite of products teaches PK-12 educators about mental health and suicide prevention to support improved student wellness and school safety. This evidence-based and research-proven online solution cost-effectively drives sustainable changes in behaviors that support student well-being, academic performance, attendance and school safety.
In addition to our flagship At-Risk programs, Kognito’s Mental Health & Well-being suite offers schools districts an easy to implement, accessible, and scalable community approach to creating a safe learning environment for students, teachers and school staff. The suite takes a whole child approach to create stronger relationships with students, create safer and more caring schools, and achieve higher academic, social and behavioral outcomes for students that may be in emotional distress.
Our simulations use role-play conversations with virtual students to allow learners to practice having difficult conversations in a safe, comfortable environment.
Learn more about how Kognito’s At-Risk solution and Mental Health & Well-being suite can empower educators to make the difference they seek to make in students’ lives by visiting Kognito.com. Or, better yet, take a demo to experience the power of our interactive role-play conversations.
Note: Dr. Joshi is a school mental health specialist who receives no financial support from Kognito and has no disclosures related to the comments he shared for this article.