As student mental health remains a top priority, an onsite team of licensed therapists has helped a school support students and avoid crises.

How a higher-ed partnership transformed student mental health services at our school

As students struggle with mounting stress and anxiety, an onsite team of licensed therapists has helped one middle school support struggling students and avoid crises

It’s a given that students will experience stress as they move through school. Learning new concepts, completing assignments and taking tests, and navigating social experiences all contribute to normal stress. But today, our students are struggling with much, much more. And too much stress has dangerous implications for student mental health and well-being.

Anxieties related to lockdowns, school violence, COVID, and family issues have been shown to increase students’ stress levels and can leave them in such a state that they are unable to learn.

In my role as the principal of Salt Lake Center for Science Education-Bryant Middle School in Salt Lake City, I have witnessed first-hand the impact that elevated stress levels have had on our students’ well-being.

As a staff, my colleagues and I have observed and discussed a marked decrease in students’ interpersonal skills, including how they get along with each other and with their teachers. We’ve also noticed a big reduction in how students talk to and get along with other people. This has a big social-emotional impact on them, and we’ve watched our students remain in a frustrated state much of the time.

Meeting student mental health needs

When you work with kids in a school setting, you often know when a student is struggling. Every child struggles in one way or another. But there are some who are struggling to the point where learning isn’t happening as it should.

For nearly five years, we’ve been lucky to partner with the U-TTEC Lab, a contemporary research lab in the University of Utah’s Department of Educational Psychology. The lab works closely with several schools in Utah to provide direct and indirect mental health supports and infrastructure.

This partnership brings trainee therapists or trainee clinicians, working under the supervision of licensed providers, directly to our school. We call the collaboration between the onsite clinicians, school guidance counselors, and administration our “well-being team,” and the clinicians provide 20 hours a week of in-person support.

We operate on a three-tiered mental health and well-being system. On the first tier, our well-being team consults with us on what we’re doing school-wide to support students. Team members help us watch for warning signs and recognize when students have needs. The second tier is group therapy, with parental permission and involvement. The third tier is individual therapy, also requiring parental permission.

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