A January 2022 study published in JAMA Pediatrics confirmed what many educators, administrators, and support staff already knew: School closures, disrupted learning, and a pandemic year have coalesced to create an alarming mental health crisis among teenagers.
The study found that up to 60 percent of students are experiencing “strong distress,” including anxiety and depression. The results echoed a recent American Psychological Association (APA) report, which found that more than 80 percent of teenagers experienced “more intense stress” during the pandemic.
In other words, as Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, notes, “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade.”
To support students during this uniquely challenging time, schools are implementing a variety of stop-gap solutions, including closing for short durations, to help alleviate stress while diverting resources, adjusting curriculums, enhancing care opportunities to improve students’ learning and mental health outcomes.
Each of these efforts is excellent, but they are unlikely to provide the tools kids need to flourish when implemented alone. However, when schools eliminate barriers to access support, streamline onboarding to maximize resources, and increase collaboration across support systems, they can most effectively help students achieve holistic wellness.
Eliminate barriers to support services
Asking for help is hard. It requires tremendous courage, the right opportunity, and a listening ear, three ingredients that are too often allusive for students. Therefore, when a student communicates a need to a teacher, coach, counselor, administrator, social worker, or other trusted adult, schools need a safe and secure process for sharing this information with qualified support services.
Today, school personnel work very hard to meet student needs, relying on everything from collaborative documents to hallway interactions to communicate these important concerns.
Instead, schools should implement a “one front door” intake process that allows students to share their story once while accessing a variety of support services, from mental health counseling to food insecurity solutions. When implemented appropriately, schools can identify and respond to a confluence of interconnected challenges facing today’s students.
Developing a collaborative records database is a great place to begin this process. An easily accessible, secure digital solution can facilitate a one front door intake process by integrating staff inputs, tracking student interventions, and ensuring appropriate reporting.
Streamline onboarding to maximize resources
Digital records and collaborative case management make it easier to provide students with a wide variety of support services, but it also makes streamlining onboarding a real possibility.
For starters, digital records let school districts distribute a referral link to teachers, families, and students, making it easier than ever for people to opt-in to specific interventions. What’s more, creating a “recommender” resource that allows employees to easily identify at-risk students can automate the referral process, exposing students to care opportunities that were previously undiscovered or underutilized.
When schools increase access to early intervention and real-time support services through streamlined onboarding, staff are empowered to help produce better outcomes for the students they serve.
Increase collaboration to support students in need
Many schools are already operated with limited resources and finite staffing, making collaboration between departments, across districts, and within communities a critical pillar of an effective response strategy.
Collaborative case management solutions can facilitate these connections by simplifying community engagement, distributing information in real-time, and integrating once-disparate care providers. It also expands students’ safety net, helping ensure that students don’t fall through the cracks or fail to progress in their mental health journeys.
This moment of tremendous need requires an all-in response from and partnership between schools, families, and communities. We all want to see our kids thrive amidst adversity. By eliminating barriers to access support, streamlining onboarding, and increasing collaboration, together, we can support students amidst an alarming mental health crisis.