Our kids are in crisis. It's so dire that, in December, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a rare public health advisory about our national youth mental health crisis.
That’s why—during Mental Health Awareness Month—Daybreak hosted an important webinar discussion with school district leaders about what they are doing to help kids get the mental health care they need, when they need it.
We heard about how hard it is to hire in-school mental health professionals, how there are endless waitlists with outside providers, and how financial, geographic, and language barriers make mental health care inaccessible for most families. In fact, the results of a poll we took during the webinar, showed that the majority of attendees said their students aren’t getting the mental health care they need and they need it faster.
Our schools are on the frontlines, becoming an essential mental health provider for students. Here are 5 ways school districts are creating more equitable and accessible mental health programs for their communities:
1. Start collecting data
Felipe Flores, MSW, MA, PPS, Mental Health Program Specialist at Lake Elsinore Unified School District, shared how they recently launched a universal mental health screener to start to gather data and understand mental health trends. This is helping them to identify needs earlier amongst individuals, student subgroups, and specific school sites. “Now that we have the data, we can share it out with the schools and address those specific needs. It is going to be really beneficial going forward.” Based on this data, his team is able to develop stronger tiers—and areas—of support where needed.
2. Create an ecosystem of care
Emily Zavala, LCSW, PPSC, Subject Area Coordinator - Mental Health and Wellness at East Union High School District, discussed how her team compliments 1:1 support with universal, tier one interventions like calming spaces and wellness weeks. In the calming spaces, kids can drop in for 15-minutes at a time to self-regulate with activities like painting, yoga, and meditation. She said that it "empowers students to take a pause” and that they have really taken advantage of—and benefited from—these spaces. If a staff member notices that there are kids showing up regularly, they can check in with them to see if they need additional support. They also host school-wide wellness weeks to educate and normalize mental health being a key part of overall health.
3. Connect students to care faster
With challenges hiring in-school mental health support and the lack of availability with outside community providers, virtual therapy has become an essential complement to in-person support. Emily shared that “there’s a shortage of clinicians creating an overarching problem….we cannot serve every kid who needs it.” Staff and counselors can easily refer students for care and students can meet with a licensed therapist—matched to their specific needs—within days. “I can refer a kiddo and they can have their intake the next week, ” Emily said. Emily and Felipe discussed how this relieves some of the pressure on their in-school staff while getting students immediate access to the care they need.
4. Enable strong therapeutic alliances
The stronger a therapeutic alliance is, the stronger the outcomes are. By matching students with therapists that specialize in their area of need and align with their own personal preferences, students have higher success rates with therapy. Emily reinforced this by saying, “With virtual (therapy), the ability to access a wider range of clinicians has lent itself to really matching intentionally. My clinicians are noting in the referral when a kiddo would prefer LGBTQ therapist or male-identified therapist or a therapist whose first language is Spanish.”
5. Make care more accessible
The mental health care system can be complex to navigate, putting both emotional and financial stress on families. Felipe noted that, “They have insurance but they can’t get services. When it takes two months to get an intake appointment to see someone, that is hard when someone’s dealing with severe depression or a grief and loss issue. When you say, ‘we have something for you’, you can hear their sigh of relief. You can help their child get the help that they need. You become a hero. We want our kids to thrive and be healthy and safe.”
To learn more about how Daybreak Health can partner with you to provide multi-tiered systems of mental health in your school district, reach out to us here.