Schools are ground zero for identifying student mental health issues. That’s why it’s imperative that school staff have the tools to recognize students who are in distress.
Mental health professionals, clinicians, and school counselors receive support and training through their education to learn the effective ways to intervene and provide direct counseling services to students and families. However, not every school needs or can afford embedded clinicians and counselors. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to address student mental health issues at school. Non-clinical school staff can also become qualified to provide meaningful support to students, when they have access to the right training and support.
Having more trained eyes on our students is one of the most practical ways in which we can proactively address mental health concerns before they become entrenched issues that disrupt social emotional growth and learning.
School problems are warning signs of student mental health issues
Students’ emotional issues are often first revealed by problems in school. Early warning signs include:
- Frequent absences
- Emotional lability (mood swings)
- Social withdrawal
- Declining grades
- Frequent visits to guidance or the nurse’s office
- Bullying involvement (as the victim or the perpetrator)
- Substance abuse
- School refusal
Any of these signs may be indicators of emotional issues that need some level of intervention. Teachers, school counselors, and child study team members have frequent and close contact with students. They often can identify early signs of distress and refer students to the appropriate people for help.
School staff who have access to mental health training and support can do even more to provide meaningful interventions for student mental health issues.
How trained school staff can help struggling students
Although most staff are not mental health professionals or therapists, all school staff can have a therapeutic function for students. With targeted training and guidance from mental health experts (like Thrive Alliance Group), non-clinical school staff can learn not only to identify the signs of mental health issues in students, but also how to help through meaningful intervention.
Here are some ways that trained school staff can effectively support student mental health:
Build relationships with students. When a student feels comfortable sharing one or more life struggles with a teacher, this can serve a therapeutic function. Encouraging students to open up is a good first step to intervention.
Work with parents and families. The problems students face are complex, and overcoming them often requires the support of their families. Also, families themselves might need help and this can be the root of the student’s difficulties. School staff can learn effective ways of communicating with families and offering helpful resources when needed.
Resolve student/teacher conflicts. When a teacher and student are at odds, that not only stops the learning for that student, but often impacts the other students in the classroom. And it also contributes to teacher burnout. School staff with mental health training learn effective ways to manage conflict and resolve issues to get everyone back on track.
Manage school refusal. School refusal is a very damaging emotional and behavioral problem, and it can be challenging for school staff. However, there are effective strategies and tools to assist in transitioning a student back into the building. With training and coaching, your school can create a skilled team that can succeed in helping students return to the classroom.
Reduce the burden from the most troubled students. Every school has students who demand a great deal of time and attention from everyone. Often, counselors and child study team members find themselves so overburdened that they don’t have enough time to go around. They are left feeling guilty about not providing equitable time to their other students. Armed with the right skills and tools, school staff can make great strides with the students who need the most help, opening up their time to help many more students.
The importance of setting boundaries
While a close student-teacher relationship can be a very powerful connection, there are pitfalls the teacher needs to be aware of in order to maintain professional boundaries. A school staff member can be friendly with a student, but not a friend.
Teachers must always be aware of the powerful emotional dynamics that can pull a teacher out of the professional role. Clear boundaries are imperative. Potential boundary violations include being a rescuer, sharing information with a student that is too personal, contacting a student outside of the school hours without proper supervision, lending money, and keeping secrets regarding dangerous acting out behavior.
Mental health training helps teachers and other school staff to better understand and set boundaries.
How our mental health coaching and training helps school staff
People who are drawn to education do so because they love children and want to see them grow. Teachers and staff want to be helpful when they see a student struggling. And they can be frustrated when they don’t know how to help.
School staff need the awareness, training, and tools to know when the student just needs a casual talk or when the talk indicates a need for further intervention.
The training, coaching, and certification model that we have designed at Thrive Alliance Group is meant to prepare staff to both feel better prepared and be better prepared to help their students. As a Certified School Mental-Wellness Specialist, staff members can:
- Recognize signs and symptoms of student mental health issues
- Better manage the classroom environment
- Address behavior issues
- Collaborate as a team to deal with difficult issues
- Develop partnerships with families/caregivers
- Navigate state agencies and advocate for students
- Understand evidence-based approaches to mental wellness
Our program includes training modules, whole staff professional development, and scenario-based coaching sessions with an experienced mental wellness coach. These components help school professionals to have more comfort in engaging students, while remaining aware of the boundaries and when to get the student more help.
Related article: Mental Health Training Prepares Schools to Meet Growing Needs
Prepare your staff for increased student mental health issues
As we all prepare to reopen schools and return to a more familiar situation, many students will need help transitioning back after 18 months of disruption. Having school staff who are qualified and prepared to help with that transition, and the accompanying emotional challenges, is imperative. Thrive Alliance Group is ready to help you better help your students.