Mental Health Services

Mental Health and Wellness in School

What are the first three words that come to mind when you hear the word “health?” Did any of the words you thought of relate to mental health? If not, we hope we can get you thinking more about mental health by the time you leave this page!

We all have mental health. No one expects to stay healthy physically if they neglect their bodies; in fact, most people (including young children) can easily discuss how they manage their physical health through things like diet, exercise, good sleep, and regular checkups with their doctor. To be mentally well, we must engage in very similar forms of regular self-care. Self-care can include healthy behaviors related to sleep, diet, and physical activity, mindfulness activities, cognitive exercises, and use of positive social support, and mental health checkups (just to name a few!).

Mental health can be thought of on a continuum. In other words, we experience many feelings and behaviors that range from healthy to unhealthy, with many points in between. Most of us do not fall exclusively on a single point on the continuum all the time; rather, we travel along the continuum. One in five of us (20%) experience significant distress and impairment in our functioning at school, home, work, or in some other meaningful area of our life due to our feelings and/or behaviors.

Why do some people develop mental illnesses? No one can answer this question with 100% certainty, but we are learning more and more every day. The best answer we can offer now is that a combination of our genes (nature) and our experiences (nurture) affect our mental health. In other words, our genes will only express themselves under the “right” conditions. This explanation also helps us to better understand the development of chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc.

Regarding mental health, we typically think about needing a certain amount of stress (this could be accumulated stress over time or even just a single traumatic event) to express genetic predispositions for certain mental illnesses. The amount of stress required to express specific genes will vary from person to person. The main point is that mental illness is NOT a sign of weakness or lack of willpower. Mental illness, in the simplest terms, reflects the story of your genes and life experiences. Click here to learn more about how adverse childhood experiences affect mental and physical health.

Nearly 1 in 5 of us (a full 20%) experience mental illness – this statistic is true for children and adults. Visit the CDC website to learn more about the statistics.  To receive a formal diagnosis, a person typically will experience some distress due to his or her symptoms and they must experience impairment in some important area of functioning (e.g., social, academic, occupational). Given the stressors associated with typical development and the many changes experienced through the teens and early 20s, it is unsurprising that most mental illnesses will onset (or occur for the first time) during these early periods of life. Nearly 50% of mental illnesses are detectable by the age of 14 and 75% have onset by the age of 24. Visit NAMI to learn more.  Keep in mind that all of us experience symptoms of mental illness on a continuum (i.e., we all know what it is like to feel sad, anxious, etc.) – it is the level of impairment and intensity of associated distress that really determines whether or not we meet criteria for a specific diagnosis. With this said, just like you would not ignore concerning changes in blood pressure or blood sugar readings, you should NOT ignore changes in mental health that might be early warning signs of more severe symptoms that are just yet to come.

At school, we focus on prevention of mental illness, just like physical illness. We use our MTSS model (LINK HERE) to determine how to best support our students. Tier 1 or universal supports are given to all students through evidence-based programs designed to develop their social and emotional learning (SEL), and we know most students (ADD %) respond well to Tier 1 supports (i.e., it is all the need). Examples of skills targeted by SEL programs include:
• Positive interactions with peers and adults
• Effective coping skills
• Grit, or resiliency (getting back on track despite challenges or negative experiences)
• Self-efficacy, or confidence in one’s ability to do something despite potential challenges
• Internal locus of control, or belief in one’s ability to influence outcomes and make changes
• Self-management (e.g., manage stress, control impulses, regulate emotions)

Click here to learn more about Tiers 2 and 3 (LINK HERE). Our Tier 2 and 3 services are provided by school district employees and partnered agency staff.

The SDIRC also partners with community agencies to provide individual, group, and family counseling. Our partner agencies are available to provide services on- and off-campus, and even in the home, to ensure that no family who wishes to receive services goes without them. Members of the school-based mental health team will help coordinate services for students and their families with partner agencies, and they will coordinate care with the various service-providers connected to the student (e.g., pediatrician, therapist, etc.).

More information about our services, practices, and partners is forthcoming. Check back for updates.