Schools are facing an enormous task in delivering mental health services to a growing number of students with urgent needs. Even before the pandemic, the gap in achievement levels due to mental health struggles was widening. The pandemic did not create this challenge; it only expanded the need.
Long-established approaches to addressing student mental health continue to be relevant today, but schools are at a moment of freshly examining how, where, and who is best positioned to tackle these challenges.
Recognizing both the new and the familiar in the challenges schools are facing
The pandemic didn’t redefine mental health or how to address it. What it did was make it harder for everybody. It highlighted any gaps that adults and children had in their mental health, in their general coping abilities, and in their ability to connect with other people. And it actively inflicted new trauma.
In a recent NPR article, Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Boston noted, “I am getting a significant number of calls from schools requesting education and professional development for teachers around how to support kids with trauma.” The sooner we address this deficit in mental health services, the greater the possibility that we can avoid long-lasting damage.
“The past year has been unsettling for even our most emotionally stable students. The uncertainty of the pandemic has undermined students’ trust that schools will stay open, sports will keep being played, and that friends and family will remain healthy,” said Isaiah Pickens, PhD, Founder & CEO of iOpening Enterprises, who specializes in a trauma-informed approach. The trauma-informed approach is, at its heart, a relationship-based approach. It creates an opportunity for the teacher to work with students to understand their life experiences and identify their triggers, and develop their coping skills. It is resonating in schools because on some level, all students and staff have collectively and individually experienced pandemic-related trauma.
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