School Mental Health Programs Can Improve Both Academic & Social Outcomes

The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model recognizes the impact and critical role that counseling, psychological and social services play on improving the mental, emotional, and social health of students. A growing body of research reinforces that providing mental health programs in schools can improve both academic and social outcomes. The WSCC model seeks to promote these services by providing schools with the structure and process needed for capacity building and sustainability through a coordinated approach.1
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines school counseling, psychological and social services as prevention and intervention services that support and promote the success of mental, behavioral and social-emotional health of students. Services include screening, evaluations, and interventions that directly and/or indirectly address psychological, academic, and social barriers to learning and contribute to the positive mental and behavioral health of students. Within a school setting, these services are usually provided by certified school guidance counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in collaboration with community health providers and community wellness organizations.2
The CDC’s 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS, 2014), a national survey that assesses school health policies and practices at the state, district, school, and classroom levels, indicates that:

  • 56.2 percent of schools have a part-time or full-time school psychologist.
  • 45.3 percent of schools have a part-time or full-time school social worker.
  • The percentage of schools that provide family counseling decreased from 60.8% in 2000 to 41.8% in 2014.
  • 40.5% of schools have arrangements with organizations or mental health or social services professionals to provide services to students at other sites not on school property.
  • The percentage of schools that provide identification of emotional or behavioral disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression, or ADHD) through providers not on school property decreased from 42.1% in 2000 to 30.2 in 2014.
  • The percentage of schools that provide identification of or referral for physical, sexual, or emotional abuse decreased from 44.3% in 2000 to 33.8% in 2014.3

Although many may perceive that mental health illnesses rarely affect youth, the number of youth requiring mental health services is growing exponentially. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that one in five children experience a diagnosable mental disorder such as depression and/or anxiety disorder during their lifetime (SAMHSA, 2013).4 In New Jersey, about 6.8% of all adolescents per year in 2009-2013 had at least one Major Depressive Episode (MDE), and 58.2% of all adolescents with MDE did not receive treatment for their depression (SAMHSA, 2015).5 The most recent Stress in America™ Survey reports that teens ages 13 to 17 are experiencing stress at unhealthy levels, appear uncertain in their stress management techniques and experience symptoms of stress that mirror adult experiences (APA, 2014).6 Research suggests that the inability to effectively cope with stress not only contributes to an adolescent’s health now, but also to habits sustained into adulthood. If schools want to develop the “whole child” and produce successful members of society, it is imperative that services that promote counseling, psychological and social services are implemented and sustained. The evidence is clear that addressing students’ mental health needs reinforces healthy behaviors, enhances healthy development, destigmatizes mental health diagnosis and treatment, and promotes a healthier school environment resulting in positive academic outcomes.7
According to an article released by the National Association of School Psychologists, when schools adopt an integrated approach to counseling, psychological and social services whereby school-employed mental health professionals work alongside community organizations, they are able to:

  • collect, analyze, and interpret school-level data to improve availability and effectiveness of mental health services;
  • design and implement interventions to meet the behavioral and mental health of students; promote early intervention services;
  • provide individual and group counseling;
  • provide staff development related to positive discipline, behavior, and mental health (including mental health first aid);
  • provide risk and threat assessments;
  • support teachers through consultations and collaboration;
  • coordinate with community service providers and integrate intensive interventions into the schooling process.8

Although there has been much improvement in this area, the survey data cited above highlights that more needed to get done. Frederick Douglass, noted social reformer, has said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” If as parents, educators, school administrators, and community members we want to see a healthier, more productive society, we must first — acknowledge the value of investing in mental health services, otherwise, our students will continue to be the currency with which we pay.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child.
    Available at: Accessed March 29, 2016.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child. Accessed March 29,2016.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) 2014, Journal od School Health, Volume 85, Number 11. November 2015.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2013. Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD.
  5. SAMHSA, 2015. Behavioral Health Barometer: New Jersey, 2014. HHS Publication No-SMA-15-4895NJ. Rockville, MD.
  6. American Psychological Association (APA), 2014. Stress in America™: Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits?
  7. Bershad, C. &Blaber, C. (2011). Realizing the Promise of the Whole-School Approach to Children’s Mental Health: A Practical Guide for Schools. Washington, DC: Education Development Center , Inc.
  8. Cowan, K.C., Vaillancourt, K., Rossen, E., & Pollitt, K. (2013). A framework for safe and successful schools [Brief]. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

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