From mental health to social support: 3 ways to help students achieve holistic wellness

How district administrators can lead in collaborative efforts to connect teachers, counselors, social workers and families to positively impact student wellness.

There is a mental health crisis in our schools.

Gary Pettengell
Gary Pettengell

According to a decade-long survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase in just ten years.

This devastating reality has only become more pronounced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent report by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 81 percent of teenagers ages 13-17 reported experiencing “more intense stress” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the number of students who identify poor mental health as a barrier to learning increased by 10 percent between the Spring 2020 and Fall 2021 semesters.

In St. Louis, Missouri, the problem is so acute that more than a dozen schools closed early for Thanksgiving break, responding to high stress levels among teachers and students.

That’s why districts are working harder than ever to support their students, integrating social-emotional learning (SEL) into curriculums, expanding access to mental health services, and equipping teachers to identify the signs of students in distress and escalating specific cases in an immediately collaborative way with the next level of support needed, including alerting counselors and school social workers.

Unfortunately, these efforts are often diminished when technical limitations, inconsistent case management and record-keeping, non-standardized referral processes, and lack of care continuity impede the mission of district employees who are doing their personal best and more to get students the care they need. This happens when outdated processes and technical system limitations make it difficult to identify, track, and support students as they progress through their education and encounter different staff members and support services along the way.

To help students achieve holistic wellness, schools need to integrate their efforts at such a critical time, connecting on-site staff, community resources, nonprofits, and other support services to help students thrive. Here are three tips to set the wheels in motion to positively impact the situations students find themselves needing help navigating.

#1 Eliminate barriers to receiving help and support through a “one front door” intake process.

When a student confides in a teacher, coach, counselor, school social worker, or other trusted adult, these professionals need a safe, secure way to communicate the student’s needs to a plethora of available resources. Currently, many educators across the U.S. rely on various ad hoc solutions, from collaborative Google Docs to happenstance hallway interactions, to communicate these needs.

A “one front door” intake process relies on a single access point where students or families can seek help for a wide variety of issues, from mental health to food or housing insecurity. This allows schools to account for the complex and often interconnected challenges facing today’s students as well as their families.

Developing a collaborative electronics records database is one step that districts should consider. A centrally accessible and secure database can collect administrative and formal notes, track student interventions, and integrate support for ancillary care concerns like homelessness, domestic abuse, food insecurity, and more.

#2 Reduce the amount of administration involved in client onboarding.

Digitizing records using a collaborative case management method can reduce the administration involved in onboarding, making it easier for students to access the support they need.

For example, creating and sending something electronically like a referral link to teachers, families, and students creates an easy way for stakeholders to request services, tracking those efforts from the start.

In addition, integrating a “recommender” that harnesses case record data to highlight students that may be at-risk can allow schools to automatically direct their services to the right students and families. This utilizes the already over-scheduled time commitments of support staff in the right direction and helps those students in need receive the support they need all the more quickly before situations worsen, or distress elements escalate.

#3 Streamline students’ records to more easily follow their journey and align with new resources.

Students are inherently transient. They advance from grade to grade and school to school. Some will move to a new town or state, and each disruption puts care continuity at risk. When coupled with standardized screening tools and advanced record keeping, schools can ensure that every student maintains access to critical support services, regardless of location.

Collaboration is critical as schools strive to help students achieve holistic wellness, viewing it as an essential part of their academic and personal development. And one that is absolutely critical as families, communities and educators try to move forward two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The right innovative approaches to processes can help, allowing on-site staff, community resources, nonprofits, and other support services to help students thrive.

Gary Pettengell is CEO of ECINS (Empowering Communities through Integrated Network Systems). ECINS is a social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable people and empowering the practitioners who serve them. A purpose-built, cloud-based, highly secure case management system, ECINS is the most widely used multi-agency collaboration tool in the U.K. and is rapidly expanding in the U.S. and around the world. Created on the belief that when people work together they can achieve more, ECINS is capable of solving just about any case management problem that exists. Learn more about ECINS by visiting https://ecins.com.

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Eric Weiss
Eric Weiss
Eric is the executive editor of District Administration magazine. He has worked as a journalist at newspapers and in television since 1993.

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