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January 2023Posted by SUSD Communications on 1/6/2023
School-Based Mental Health Services: Improving Student Learning and Well-BeingPosted by SUSD Communications on 1/6/2023
Mentally healthy children are more successful in school and life. Good mental health is critical to children’s success in school and life. Research demonstrates that students who receive social-emotional and mental health support achieve better academically. School climate, classroom behavior, on-task learning, and students’ sense of connectedness and well-being all improve, as well. Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness, but also encompasses social, emotional, and behavioral health, and the ability to cope with life’s challenges. Left unmet, mental health problems are linked to costly, negative outcomes, such as academic and behavior problems, dropping out, and delinquency.
Schools are an ideal place to provide mental health services to children and youth. Virtually every community has a school, and most children spend at least 6 hours a day there. Schools offer an ideal context for prevention, intervention, positive development, and regular communication between school and families. School-employed professionals, like school psychologists, school counselors, school social workers, and school nurses, know the students, parents, and other staff, which contributes to accessibility of services. In fact, research has shown that students are more likely to seek counseling when services are available in schools. In some cases, such as in rural areas, schools provide the only mental health services in the community.
School mental health services support the mission and purpose of schools: learning. All services provided in schools should be appropriate to the learning environment; those that are not risk being ineffective or even counterproductive. Just as children are not simply small adults, schools are not merely private clinics with chalkboards. Being trained to work within this culture is essential to being effective (and cost-effective).
School-employed mental health professionals are specially trained to provide services in the learning context. School counselors, school psychologists and school social workers provide the vast majority of school-based services. They are specially trained in school-system functioning and learning, as well as how students’ behavior and mental health impacts their ability to be successful in school. Areas of expertise include, but are not limited to, education law, curriculum and instruction, classroom and behavior management, individual and group counseling, learning disabilities, school safety and crisis response, effective discipline, cultural competence, and consultation with educators, families and community providers.
School mental health services are essential to creating and sustaining safe schools. Increased access to mental health services and supports in schools is vital to improving the physical and psychological safety of our students and schools, as well as academic performance and problem-solving skills. School mental health supports that encompass social-emotional learning, mental wellness, resilience, and positive connections between students and adults are essential to creating a school culture in which students feel safe and empowered to report safety concerns, which is proven to be among the most effective school-safety strategies. Additionally, in the aftermath of a crisis, school-employed mental health professionals provide supports that facilitate a return to normalcy, are sustainable, and can help to identify and work with students with more intense or ongoing needs.
Providing a continuum of school mental-health services is critical to effectively addressing the breadth of students’ needs. Comprehensive mental health services are most effective when provided through a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), by school-employed mental health professionals. MTSS encompasses the continuum of need, enabling schools to promote mental wellness for all students, identify and address problems before they escalate or become chronic, and provide increasingly intensive, data-driven services for individual students as needed. Access to adequate staffing of school-employed mental health professionals is essential to the quality and effectiveness of these services.
School-community collaboration is critical to providing the full continuum of mental health services. Meeting the full continuum of student needs is also dependent on collaboration between schools and community mental-health providers. Typically, community providers offer supplementary or intensive services that go beyond school capacities. An MTSS approach facilitates effective collaboration while ensuring that services provided in school are appropriate to the learning context and that those that are provided after school hours are appropriately linked to and supported in the school setting. Partnerships are most effective when coordinated by school-employed mental professionals, are defined by clear memoranda of understanding, and reinforce an appreciation for the unique contribution each group makes to creating more seamless and comprehensive service delivery. This not only reduces gaps, redundancy, and conflict, it also reduces stress on families and supports their roles as primary caregivers and decision-makers regarding their child’s development.
*Adopted from the National Association of School Psychologists
December 2022Posted by SUSD Communications on 12/1/2022
Beating Holiday StressPosted by SUSD Communications on 12/1/2022
The holidays are here! It’s the happiest time of year, right? For some, the resounding answer is “YES!”, but for others, the holidays bring into sharp focus how desperately stressed out and unhappy they feel. The holidays can be an exciting time for adolescents, with presents, school vacations, parties, and family get-togethers. It can also be the most difficult time of the year for some people.
There are many reasons that the holidays can be extraordinarily difficult for children. Obvious reasons include the death of a loved one, a divorce, a parent losing a job, relocating to a new area, or other significant changes in their lives. Other reasons may not be as apparent, such as peer pressure at school, semester grades not as good as he or she may have hoped for, or a difficult family dynamic at home.
We can all imagine the perfect holiday gathering, with the perfect holiday meal and the perfect family on perfect behavior. We see images of it all of the time in the media: the traditional, happy family gathered around the holiday table or the tree, surrounded by loads of wrapped gifts. When holiday expectations collide with reality, it can be particularly troubling for some. High expectations are formed about what gifts will be received, how families will behave when they are together, and what traditions will be followed, and then there are realities.
Be on the lookout for the following signs that your student isn’t handling the stress of the holiday season well:
- He or she is often irritable
- He or she withdraws from activities that used to be favorites
- His or her normal appetite or sleep habits change
- He or she is experiencing recurring headaches or other pains that are unusual for them
These are all signs of a child dealing with stress. If you see these signs, talk to your child or have another trusted adult, possibly a close family member, do so. Talking with caring, supportive friends and family can be a positive step and are preferable to keeping negative feelings bottled up.
There are natural stress relievers that anyone can use to help reduce stress, sad feelings, and/or anger. Not all these stress relievers work for everyone, but have your adolescent try out some of the following coping skills to see what may work for him or her. Having a few coping skills in his or her back pocket to pull out, if needed, may serve your adolescent well into adulthood.
- Exercise – it releases tension and energizes
- Eat regular and nutritious meals
- Avoid excess caffeine
- Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco
- Get enough sleep
- Learn relaxation exercises such as meditation, yoga, etc.
- Listen to music during your regular activities
- Have a safe person or caring friend to “vent to,” to get negative feelings out
- Write in a journal to identify and release negative thoughts
- Make time for yourself
There is a point, however, where a bumpy stretch becomes something more serious. You should consider professional intervention in the following situations:
- When the behavior lasts more than two weeks. Sometimes, adolescents have changes in moods, but when it lasts for an extended period of time, it may be time to suspect something more serious is going on.
- When the adolescent’s behavior really interferes with his or her interactions with family, peers, or school functioning.
- When the adolescent is involved with self-inflicted injury, such as cutting
- When the adolescent becomes involved with shoplifting, substance abuse, or other criminal behavior
- When the adolescent talks about suicide, feelings of worthlessness or suicide attempts
Parents looking for advice or professional help can check with their child’s primary care physician or with the guidance counselors, social worker or school psychologist at the student’s school.
The holidays are meant to be a time filled with joy, sharing and family togetherness. If your child is struggling, helping them through the season can be the best gift of all.
November 2022Posted by SUSD Communications on 11/1/2022
Vaping PreventionPosted by SUSD Communications on 11/1/2022
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, e-cigarettes, vapes, and Juuls have become the most used commonly used tobacco products by youth in the past few years. The FDA now believes that youth use of e-cigarettes has reached epidemic proportions. Please read the following information and talk to your student about the dangers of vaping.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR TEEN ABOUT VAPING:
Know the facts.
- Research vaping online from credible sources.
- Become familiar with the latest terminology.
Be patient and ready to listen.
- Avoid criticism and encourage dialogue.
- It is ok to have a conversation over time, in bits and pieces.
Find the right moment. A more natural discussion will increase the likelihood that your teen will listen. Bring up the topic when:
- Someone is vaping nearby.
- You pass an e-cigarette store or retail display.
- You see or hear an e-cigarette advertisement.
Thank you for having a conversation with your student(s) on this important topic. Please see below for additional resources.
Information on Vaping
Quit Vaping Resources
- ASHLine is the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline and helps people in Arizona quit using tobacco (including vape) free of charge. ASHLine provides free coaching, free medication, and other resources to help people quit. ASHLine is located at the University of Arizona. It’s a public service entity funded by the state tax on tobacco products. Call 1-800-55-66-222 or go to https://ashline.org/
October 2022Posted by SUSD Communications on 10/3/2022
Fostering ResiliencePosted by SUSD Communications on 10/3/2022
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks, learn from failure, be motivated by challenges, and believe in your own abilities to deal with the stress and difficulties in life. In order for children to reach their fullest potential, they need to know how to approach life with resilience.
Resilience is not all or nothing. It comes in amounts. You can be a little resilient, a lot resilient, resilient in some situations but not others. And, no matter how resilient your child is today, you can help him or her become more resilient tomorrow. Research has identified a variety of important ingredients of resilience but there are seven that we can most easily teach our children.
Emotion awareness and control.
One of the myths about resilience is that resilient people tough it out without expressing emotion: They keep it all inside and are stoic in the face of adversity. This view of resilience might be common, but it’s not accurate. Resilient people—adults and children— are comfortable with their feelings and they express them. In fact, resilient children experience a broad array of emotions—happiness, joy, fear, and sadness. They have a good understanding of their own emotions and they feel comfortable talking about what they are feeling with people they trust. So, when a resilient child goes through a tough time, she does feel sad or scared or anxious. After all, she is human! However, there is an important difference that distinguishes the more resilient from the less resilient. Resilient children don’t get “stuck” in an emotion. Although they might feel sad or scared, these feelings don’t prevent them from coping with the situation and moving forward. When an emotion is too strong, so strong that it interferes with the person’s ability to cope, the resilient person knows how to control her emotions so that she is able to push forward with a plan of action.
We all have impulses to do things and say things that aren’t in our best interest or helpful or kind to others. Resilience doesn’t require that you stop having these impulses, but it does require you to stop yourself from acting on every impulse you have. Resilient children have internalized the “stop and think” message and use it to make choices about their actions. The good news is that impulse control can be learned. So even if your child is impulsive, you can learn some simple strategies to teach him to handle situations better.
Optimism is another key ingredient of resilience. The research on optimism is clear: Optimistic people are happier, healthier, more productive, have better relationships, succeed more, are better problem solvers, and are less likely to become depressed than pessimistic people. Programs have been developed that teach children and adolescents critical optimism and resilience skills. Research shows that kids can learn these skills and that optimism and resilience protect children against depression and anxiety. This is critical because at any one point in time as many as 10%–19% of adolescents report moderate to high level symptoms of depression. Children and adolescents with high symptoms of depression are more likely than their peers to have academic difficulty, smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol or other drugs, and attempt suicide. You notice, however, that we talk about “realistic optimism.” This is important. Resilience is not served by denying problems when they exist, believing that you never make mistakes, and blaming others whenever things go wrong. Resilience is about seeing yourself and situations as optimistically as you can—but within the bounds of reality. Realistic optimism keeps you shooting for the stars without losing sight of the ground below.
Resilient children are flexible thinkers. They view problems from several different perspectives. When a resilient child has a fight with her best friend, she is able to view the situation from the friend’s perspective as well as her own. When a resilient child doesn’t do well on a test, he is able to come up with a variety of factors that might have led to the poor outcome. Why does this matter? It matters because flexible thinking increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to come up with solutions to the problem you’re confronting. Flexible thinking means that you’ll generate a number of different ways to handle the situation so, if your first solution doesn’t work, you’ll have a Plan B ready.
A basic ingredient in resilience is belief in one’s self: self-confidence. Resilient children believe that they are effective in the world. They have learned what their strengths and weaknesses are, and they rely on their strengths to navigate the challenges in life. For one child this might mean using his sense of humor to deal with stress; for another child it might mean using her creativity to come up with new ways to handle problems. But don’t confuse self-efficacy with self-esteem. Self-esteem is about feeling good about one’s self and self-efficacy is about effecting change in the world. The road to resilience is through self-efficacy, not self-esteem. If your child is confident and knows how to master what life throws in his path, self-esteem will follow.
Resilient children are connected with others. In fact, some of the landmark studies in resilience show that children who have at least one enduring relationship with a caring adult (a parent, a neighbor, a teacher, a coach) do well and can overcome even the most difficult hardships. Empathy is an important component of strong social relationships. Children who care about others, are interested in other people’s feelings and experiences, and want to help others through tough times are more likely to have strong, healthy friendships. Empathy serves resilience by facilitating strong relationships. Children who have a strong network of friends and adults who care about them have a support system that they can turn to when they need help.
Resilient children take risks. This doesn’t mean hurling themselves off mountaintops or riding motorcycles without helmets. It means appropriate, horizon expanding risks. Children who are resilient don’t see failure as something to be avoided. They are willing to try new things because deep down they know that by trying new things and taking risks they will learn more, achieve more, and enjoy life more. The risk taking might take the form of signing up for a hard class or talking with someone they’ve never met before or even just trying a new food. Their optimism fuels them and their self-efficacy gives them the confidence to try, even when that means risking failure.
Take a moment and reflect on the seven ingredients of resilience. Make a list of the ingredients you have in abundance (your resilience strengths) and make a list of the resilience ingredients you are low on (your resilience weaknesses). Do the same for your child. Remember, we can all become more resilient tomorrow than we are today. You don’t need to have your cupboard overflowing with each of the seven ingredients. Challenge yourself to use your resilience strengths more fully and see if you can devote some energy to increasing one of the ingredients you are low on.
Adapted from: The Seven Ingredients of Resilience: Information for Parents. 2010 National Association of School Psychologists. Communiqué Handout: March/April 2010, Volume 38, Number 6
This parent resource is part the National Association of School Psychologists and Pepperidge Farm Fishful Thinking Partnership and is adapted from work by Karen Reivich, PhD, University of Pennsylvania.
September 2022Posted by SUSD Communications on 9/1/2022
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness MonthPosted by SUSD Communications on 9/1/2022
Suicide is the leading cause of death among school-age youth. However, suicide is preventable. Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers, and friends are in a key position to pick up on these signs and get help.
Most important is to never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them secret. When all adults and students in a school community are committed to making suicide prevention a priority ‒and are empowered to take the correct actions ‒ we can help youth before they engage in behavior with irreversible consequences.
Suicide Risk Factors
Although far from perfect predictors, certain characteristics are associated with increased odds of having suicidal thoughts. These include:
- Mental illness, including depression, conduct disorders, and substance abuse
- Family stress/dysfunction
- Environmental risks, including the presence of a firearm in the home
- Situational crises (e.g., traumatic death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, family violence)
Suicide Warning Signs
Most suicidal youth demonstrate observable behaviors that signal their suicidal thinking. These include:
- Suicidal threats in the form of direct ("I am going to kill myself") and indirect ("I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up again") statements
- Suicide notes and plans (including online postings)
- Prior suicidal behavior
- Making final arrangements (e.g., making funeral arrangements, writing a will, giving away prized possessions)
- Preoccupation with death
- Changes in behavior, appearance, thoughts and/or feelings
What to Do
Youth who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe. When a youth gives signs that they may be considering suicide, the following actions should be taken:
- Remain calm.
- Ask the youth directly if he or she is thinking about suicide (e.g., "Are you thinking of suicide?").
- Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
- Reassure them that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.
- Do not judge.
- Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the youth alone.
- Remove means for self-harm.
- Get help: No one should ever agree to keep a youth's suicidal thoughts a secret and, instead, should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a parent, teacher, or school psychologist. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible. School staff should take the student to a school-employed mental health professional or administrator.
The Role of the School in Suicide Prevention
Children and adolescents spend a substantial part of their day in school under the supervision of school personnel. Effective suicide and violence prevention is integrated with supportive mental health services, engages the entire school community, and is imbedded in a positive school climate through student behavioral expectations and a caring and trusting student/adult relationship. Therefore, it is crucial for all school staff members to be familiar with, and be watchful for, risk factors and warning signs of suicidal behavior. The entire school staff should work to create an environment where students feel safe sharing such information. School psychologists and other crisis response team personnel, including the school counselor and school administrator, are trained to intervene when a student is identified as being at risk for suicide. These individuals conduct a suicide risk assessment, warn/inform parents, provide recommendations and referrals to community services, and often provide follow-up counseling and support at school.
Parental Notification and Participation
Even if a youth is judged to be at low risk for suicidal behavior, schools may ask parents to sign a documentation form to indicate that relevant information has been provided. Parental notifications must be documented. Additionally, parents are crucial members of a suicide risk assessment, as they often have information critical to making an appropriate assessment of risk, including mental health history, family dynamics, recent traumatic events, and previous suicidal behaviors. After a school notifies a parent of their child's risk for suicide and provides referral information, the responsibility falls upon the parent to seek mental health assistance for their child. Parents must:
- Continue to take threats seriously: Follow-through is important, even after the child calms down or informs the parent "they didn't mean it." Avoid assuming behavior is simply attention-seeking (but at the same time avoid reinforcing suicide threats, e.g., by allowing the student who has threatened suicide to drive because they were denied access to the car).
- Access school supports: If parents are uncomfortable with following through on referrals, they can give the school psychologist permission to contact the referral agency, provide referral information, and follow-up on the visit.
- Maintain communication with the school: After such an intervention, the school will also provide follow-up supports. Your communication will be crucial to ensuring that the school is the safest, most comfortable place for your child.
The presence of resiliency factors can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Once a child or adolescent is considered at-risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth. These include:
- Family support and cohesion, including good communication
- Peer support and close social networks
- School and community connectedness
- Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living
- Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict-resolution
- General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, sense of purpose
- Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources
Adapted from: National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814; (301) 657-0270, Fax (301) 657-0275; www.nasponline.org
For an easy-to-read, downloadable summary of these recommendations, please click here.