The Right Mental Health Care for Kids
With all the attention paid to the LEP population at schools and the presentation of treatments for children with mental illnesses, many teachers, school leaders and parents have become familiar with what mental health treatment entails.
There are drugs to treat mental illnesses, and behavioral interventions that help kids learn to get along with others. And there are direct psychological treatments such as talk therapy that help kids with OCD, ADHD and more.
For most students, though, there is another approach that could be helpful. In fact, it is less costly, more efficient and has more proven results. Let’s explore ways in which support for students’ mental health might work.
Stay in School
If a student has a mental illness or disabilities, the easiest and best response from a school is to provide all students with free or reduced-price lunches. Without public or private schooling, there’s not much of a chance the student is going to be successful, because many issues, such as poverty and inadequate housing, can be addressed only through an educational setting. That being said, if a student is suicidal, requiring the individual to go into an institution can be more difficult than staying in school. Thus, in many cases, school administrators and teachers will keep students in school until that situation becomes untenable. Many of us will remember the terrorist attack in a Pennsylvania school building a few years ago. Although the school district’s initial response was a lax approach to the situation, once things started to get out of hand, school administrators would typically keep the student in school until the situation stabilized.
Showering and Gym Staffing
Showering students in the building, especially at the middle and high school levels, is critical. A student with a chronic illness might require a specialized towel to be used. Students with mood or impulse issues may need to be observed and just talked to about how to manage their stressors. Most student confidentiality laws prohibit the disclosure of details about the school environment, including showers, to outside, unofficial mental health providers and children. But in the event of a serious health issue, the superintendent, other school administrators, a group of parents and mental health providers can be on the same page regarding who may be involved in keeping the child in school and providing follow-up care. A school therapist or psychiatrist will be involved as well, but better shower facilities are usually not a requirement for a school system.
Monitors in the School
There are also best practices about hiring monitors to keep an eye on the school, without costing the school district anything. In grades 6 through 12, each grade level will usually have “hygiene teachers” that are responsible for ensuring that students do not have a smelly lunch bag, do not have blood in their hair or clothing, or do not use inappropriate hand washing techniques. While monitoring programs are less common today, it’s an inexpensive way for the school to be proactive about managing the behavior of a student who might be a safety risk.
There’s a difference between getting all students treated for mental illness, and offering them counseling services. If a school is not offering counseling for kids with mental health issues, it is wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere. Many schools have no psychologists on staff, nor do they have community mental health centers on campus. And if school officials have a hard time securing high quality mental health professionals who will work part-time or for a fixed rate per session, it is not out of the question that they will turn to self-help solutions when something doesn’t go well.
One option is to call in trained counselors who live in the area and have graduated from a master’s degree or doctorate program in counseling psychology. They don’t need college education or a lot of expertise to help students. A high school student might not know who a psychologist is, or they might only feel comfortable talking to an adult at his or her school. In addition, therapy sessions are available in most medical offices and could be self-taught at the student’s home or even at home by a parent. For those students who may be a safety risk, it’s easy for an adult to enter a room, stand in a doorway and grab the students while they are busy playing around with clothes or a hobby. In addition, some kids are eligible for treatment at home by a therapist working for the school, private therapist or at the school. And hopefully a few students have actually asked for help at the age of 16. When that happens, it’s important to help them connect with an adult they can contact immediately for help and support.
Photo by ilbyis