In May 2021, we launched a new blog series called Spotlight on School-based Mental Health to unpack the why, what, when, who, and where of providing mental health services in schools. This first post in the series focuses on the why by discussing three IES-funded projects that highlight the importance of these services.
Increasing access to needed services. A primary benefit of school-based mental health is that it can increase access to much-needed services. A 2019 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) indicates that 60% of the nearly 4 million 12- to 17-year-olds who reported a major depressive episode in the past year did not receive any treatment whatsoever. What can be done to address this need? One idea being tested in this 2019 efficacy replication study is whether school counselors with clinician support can provide high school students a telehealth version of a tier-2 depression prevention program with prior evidence of efficacy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy-Adolescent Skills Training (IPT-AST). Through individual and group sessions, the IPT-AST program provides direct instruction in communication and interpersonal problem-solving strategies to decrease conflict, increase support, and improve social functioning.
Improving access to services for Black youth. Social anxiety (SA) is a debilitating fear of negative evaluation in performance and social situations that can make school a particularly challenging environment. The connection between SA and impaired school functioning is likely exacerbated in Black youth who often contend with negative racial stereotypes. In this 2020 development and innovation project, the research team aims to expand Black youth’s access to mental health services by improving the contextual and cultural relevance of a promising school-based social anxiety intervention, the Skills for Academic and Social Success (SASS). Through community partnerships, focus groups, and interviews, the team will make cultural and structural changes to SASS and add strategies to engage Black students in urban high schools who experience social anxiety.
Reducing stigma by promoting well-being. The second leading barrier cited by adolescents for not seeking mental health treatment include social factors such as perceived stigma and embarrassment. One way to counteract these barriers is to frame intervention in more positive terms with a focus on subjective well-being, a central construct in positive psychology. In this 2020 initial efficacy study, the research team is testing the Well-Being Promotion Program in middle schools in Florida and Massachusetts. In 10 core sessions, students low in subjective well-being take part in group activities and complete homework assignments designed to increase gratitude, acts of kindness, use of signature character strengths, savoring of positive experiences, optimism, and hopeful or goal-directed thinking.
These three projects illustrate why we need to carefully consider school-based mental health as a logical and critical part of success in school, particularly as we navigate the road to helping students recover from disengagement and learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic.
Next in the series, we will look at the what of school-based mental health and highlight several projects that are developing innovative ways to support the mental health of students and staff in school settings.
Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research at IES