By Alicia Rozum, California School-Based Health Alliance
Jared had been acting different. Typically an excellent student, he started falling asleep in class or putting his head down on the desk. He seemed “out of it”–that’s how his Chemistry teacher wrote it on the referral form to the high school’s comprehensive mental health program. As the school social worker managing this program, I decided the signs noticed by his teacher were enough to warrant scheduling an appointment that week.
However, within days, we received three more referrals for Jared — one from a friend who said Jared “seemed sad and lonely”; a second from his art teacher reporting that his work had lately been focused on death and destruction; and a final referral from Jared’s sister, who attended a different high school. His sister confided to her counselor that her brother had been talking about suicide. The counselor had the training to know that this was a serious risk and contacted me immediately.
Thanks to the willingness of all these referral sources — two high school teachers and two high school students–we were able to intervene immediately with Jared. We learned that he was, in fact, contemplating suicide and had a plan to kill himself that weekend.
We implemented our school’s crisis intervention protocols: Jared was assessed by a mental health professional, his family was contacted, and he was transported to the hospital for treatment. After his release from the hospital, Jared was paired with our on-site mental health therapist to receive ongoing counseling. Two years later, Jared graduated from high school and was on his way to college.
In many ways, the comprehensive mental health program on site at this high school helped save Jared’s life. The program had several components that made it successful:
- All students had access, not just those in special education.
- It was publicized to students through classroom trainings, activities, and posters around campus.
- Teachers knew about it through professional development and consultation.
- It offered crisis intervention, one-on-one counseling, and case management services on site.
Your school district can have services like this too! Student mental health is a big concern among educators, with over 20 percent of youth having a diagnosed mental health disorder. Many classroom behavioral issues, like acting out, poor self-regulation, and attention issues, are related to mental health concerns. With the advent of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the increased focus on student engagement and school climate, mental health services in schools are a cost-effective way to increase attendance and reduce suspensions/expulsions.
Mental health professionals on campus also help schools prevent and address crises, train teachers in effective classroom strategies and how to support struggling students, and involve youth in delivering services that best meet their needs. To learn more about best practices for building comprehensive school-based mental health programs, check out Why Student Mental Health Matters or contact Alicia Rozum: firstname.lastname@example.org, Project Director, Mental Health, at the California School-Based Health Alliance.