The Mental Health Crisis in Schools: What Teachers Can Do

A mental health crisis is escalating: the number of children needing specialized help for mental health disorders is increasing as the number of educators that are qualified to handle these situations decreases.

Early Years of Education Crucial for Mental Health

The years of childhood and adolescence play a key factor in shaping young adults into who they will become and what their role in society will be. During these phases of life, children and teenagers spend a majority of their time in school, making this environment a crucial part of their life, well-being and development.

Currently, there are over 10 million students, ages 13–18, who require professional help due to a mental health condition. Of these conditions, depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder are the most common among young students. Nonsuicidal self-injury and opioid abuse are also very destructive behaviors that are common in U.S. schools. Most teachers are not trained in how to recognize or properly address issues that arise from these specific conditions.

Teachers with Mental Health Training can Have a Huge Impact

Unfortunately, many children dealing with mental health disorders don’t have access to the professional help they need. According to the Child Mind Institute, 50 percent of all mental illnesses begin before age 14 and 75 percent occur by age 24. During these momentous years, it’s imperative that schools are prepared to deal with mental health issues so that children can be provided with a learning environment that supports their health and development instead of helping to contribute to the oncoming mental health crisis.

Lack Of Training for Teachers Can Be Detrimental

While the discussion around mental health is slowly becoming more transparent, many schools and staff are unprepared to deal with these situations due to a lack of proper training. Too often educators are left desperately wanting to help students in need, but are unsure how to effectively do so. In other cases, teachers aren’t always able to identify students who may be at risk. This results in a reactive approach when a mental health crisis occurs, suicide for example, rather than a systematic approach focused on prevention.

Sandy Merz, a teacher in Arizona, states that he’s had “zero training in issues related to student mental health.”

Many teachers and educational staff find themselves in this exact situation where they may not know the best way to deal with emotional and mental health situations that arise with their students. Merz believes an effective training program would “seek to help teachers become better teachers, not mental health experts or therapists.”

Schools are beginning to realize that the ultimate goal is not to take the place of therapists and counselors, but to work together using a whole-school approach in order to cohesively create support for students in the environment where they spend the majority of their days. For example, a student might seek therapy outside of school and find it helpful, but when they go back to school they may feel misunderstood if the teachers aren’t properly trained.

Educators Are Key Players In Creating Change

Teachers and educational staff are on the front lines when it comes to supporting students who have mental illnesses. There is a huge need for training at all positions in education including teachers, staff, bus drivers and superintendents alike. People in these roles have direct and daily connection with students, which means they face the biggest opportunity to impact them and carry out systems that will prevent mental health crises in schools.

Educators Concerned About Potential Mental Health Crisis

Educators are very aware of the disturbing concerns many students face.

In the 2018 issue of Educational Leadership, “Mental Health in Schools”, Kristin Souers states:
“Those of us in caregiving fields have long realized that trauma is toxic to students’ brains and spirits as well as their bodies.”

Proper Mental Health Training Important for Teacher Well-Being

Dealing with students who have mental health disorders can take a physical and emotional toll on teachers as well causing them to become burnt out and exhausted.

Each year more students are diagnosed with mental health disorders while the number of teachers equipped to properly handle these situations decreases. A strong support system is needed for educators in order to reduce the teacher turnover rate and to build teacher confidence when it comes to approaching these situations.

Training Can Help Teachers Help Their Students and Themselves

Even though the role of educators is extremely important when addressing student mental health issues, it’s key to remember that the number one cause for teacher turn-over is burnout. Responsibility for the mental health of students should never be solely placed on teachers.

Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America says, “It’s best that they be seen as partners—with parents, the administration, the community—in helping students with mental health challenges.”

A comprehensive, collaborative view of student mental health is necessary to create a positive impact.

A Solution That Makes Sense: Mental Health Training

While many educators know that preventative systems are needed in their schools they aren’t sure where to turn. To combat the mental health training gap IBCCES, the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, has developed Student Mental Health Specialist (SMHS) and Student Mental Health Certification (SMHC) programs.

Mental Health Certifications for Educators

Based on feedback from administrators, educators, and leaders in the districts across the country, these programs were developed by a board of experts, international leaders in the education field, master educators, Tier 1 university researchers, and clinical professionals.

The SMHS and SMHC programs were designed to address the most crucial training topics according to leaders in education. These include anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavior modifications, Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), traumatic brain injury, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), IEP and program development, and suicide.

IBCCES has created a training program unlike any other. It consists of captivating, relevant strategies proven to be effective that can be implemented in classrooms immediately. By combining training with a certification process, educators will complete the program feeling confident that they will be able to effectively handle mental health issues while working with any population.

The program consists of a six step certification process:

1. Apply online
2. Complete the online training program
3. Pass the Certification exam
4. IBCCES verification
5. Board approval
6. Certification issued

The certification process provides educators with benefits that are paramount to any other program. The SMHS and SMHC program allows teachers to provide support and resources to students and their families. This in turn enhances the overall school experience, safety and learning outcomes. Educators who go through the certification will also have access to best practices and current research while learning how to accurately identify students who are potentially struggling with mental health issues. The training and certification gives teachers an opportunity to drastically improve student outcomes, behavior and learning while also providing credibility and recognition for their staff, school and district.

IBCCES strives to equip educators so that they can quickly recognize a student in need and take appropriate, effective action.

Nguyen says “We’re seeing progress that hopefully will continue. We can’t wait until a student is at a crisis state. Like diabetes or cancer, you should never wait until stage 4 to intervene.” The answer to the mental health crisis issue in schools is preventative training for all educators.

Through the SMHS and SMHC training and certification our schools face a brighter future that will involve effective, preventative systems for students with mental health issues. A safe, encouraging learning environment where students feel supported and educators feel prepared is possible.

Be a part of the change in your school system.


Student Mental Health Specialist IBCCES

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