Our Students and Their Mental Health

Webinar Series August Topic: Student Mental Health

On August 23rd, East Mountain School’s director/principal, Stacey Paulis, EdD, hosted a webinar on student mental health called “Our Students and Their Mental Health – A New School Year for This Critical Classroom Challenge.”

This post provides a breakdown of the information discussed during the webinar and is mainly geared toward adolescents and high school students/young adults. If you are interested in support for college students, check with your school—there may be a campus health center or college counseling center which can help. You can also look on the American College Health Association (ACHA) website for more information.

Our Students and Their Mental Health – A New School Year for This Critical Classroom Challenge

When we fail to address mental health problems with our kids, they will tell us one way or another. Maybe it’s an anxiety disorder, eating disorder, or an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, but whatever is going on, it will manifest. Our kids may scream, throw tantrums, struggle with school work, have panic attacks, exhibit anger issues, or may even harm themselves. This can make us feel powerless, but we can make a difference just by noticing, showing an interest in their well-being, and being part of their support system.

“To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the World.”

When one adult takes time to notice and care…

Changing our Minds About Mental Health – What parents and schools can do…

Mental health is a public health issue and needs to be treated as such. If we work to increase awareness, educate, prepare, and encourage an open dialogue, the stigma of mental illness will become less and less, until it is finally erased for good.

Acknowledge stigma; work on multiple levels to remove it

  • Make the cultural shift in both students and adults
  • Confront the fear and the fear of talking about it
  • Make mental health awareness and education a priority
  • Don’t wait for a mental health crisis
  • Develop and put a Response Team in place, not a Crisis Team
  • Expose the entire school population to education, even an assembly gets the kids talking, repeatedly
  • Parent and staff education

Acknowledging Stigma & Moving Beyond

The Challenge…. 

Simultaneously educate and expose the school community to mental health issues while learning about all others, e.g. students with learning or physical disabilities.

  • Teach “empathy education” not labeling
  • Warn of the power and dangers of social media
  • Common planning/education among all professionals
  • Immunity for teachers when reporting concerns
  • Intervention at pre-crisis with “Response Team” to fast-track coping plans and strategies

Meet Becca

School Strategies

  • Linking outside mental health professionals within schools
  • Curriculum programming for mental health education; i.e. Health classes, School Nurse
  • Peer leadership education, empower students to help students, nurture school community support
  • Identifying students in need … risk factors, previous trauma, learning disabilities, health issues, family challenges, substance abuse
  • Establish protocols similar to Harassment Intimidation & Bullying Legislation (e.g. the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act)
  • For educators, mandatory training, e.g. Mental Health America’s, Back to School Toolkit

Approaches to Offer Students in Need Positive Behavior Supports (PBS)

Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) are proactive and focus on:

  • Understanding the reason for challenging behavior
  • Student strengths and needs
  • Teaching alternative skills, replacing behaviors
  • Improvement in the student’s quality of life

Behavior Intervention Strategies

Examples of Replacement Behaviors/Skills Training

  • Teach a replacement skill to meet student’s needs (e.g. asking for a break, asking for help, asking for attention)
  • Teach skills to increase self-management (e.g. communication, social skills, self-management, play skills)
  • Teach coping skills for times of stress

Strategies for the more Fragile Students – Behavior Intervention Strategies

Examples of Addressing Antecedent/Setting Events

  • Change sequence of daily routine
  • Provide choice
  • Increase access to preferred activities
  • Modify tasks
  • Modify/adapt materials
  • Change interactions
  • Visual supports
  • Sensory strategies
  • Advanced preparation/rehearsal for difficult/unusual events (discussion, role play, social story)

Healing Wounds/Trauma

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-Informed Care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma.

It also emphasizes the physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.

Trauma Informed Care is a strengths-based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of… that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.
–(Hopper, Bassuk & Olivet, 2010, pg. 82)

Trauma-Informed Approach

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) the Trauma-Informed Approach…

  • Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  • Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.

The goal is always to address the consequences of trauma and to facilitate healing

Trauma in Children and Healing

“Response Team” Strategies

Once you identify the child in need, consider asking…

“What Happened to You?” NOT “What’s Wrong with You?”

  • Provide intervention services, school, AND community
  • Training for the classroom teacher
  • Apply least intrusive supports and use more deliberate supports if needed
  • Identify the family needs (Behavior Family Navigator) BFN
  • Monitor effectiveness of all supports
  • Plan ongoing check-ins, re-establish contact to build their confidence in management

East Mountain School

East Mountain School is located on Carrier Clinic Campus in Belle Mead, Somerset County, New Jersey.

We offer compassionate care through support and education.

Established in 1981, East Mountain School (EMS) is a private, non-profit, special education school offering programming for 7th through 12th-grade.

We provide intensive counseling services for teens and adolescents with behavioral or psychiatric challenges and offer summer enrichment in our six-week Extended School Year Program.

The Mission at Hand

Clearly enhancing mental health in schools in comprehensive ways is not an easy task. Indeed, it is likely to remain an insurmountable task until school reformers accept the reality that such activity is essential and does not represent an agenda separate from a school’s instructional mission.
—School Mental Health Project, Center for Mental Health in Schools, 2015

That’s because it IS the mission…be willing to make it the mission.

Additional Resources for Support

Please refer to this list of counseling centers, mental health care organizations, prevention programs, and more.

Emergency Services & Crisis Intervention

Somerset County – Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services (PESS)
Temporary Address 515 Church Street, Suite #2 Bound Brook, NJ 08805
(908) 526-4100

American Association of Poison Control Centers
1(800) 222-1222

Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ
1 (800) 426-2537

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1 (800) 273-8255

NJ Addiction Services Hotline
1 (844) 276-2777

NJ CONNECT for Recovery
1 (855) 652-3737

NJ Hope Line (Suicide Prevention)
1 (855) 654-6735

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services National Helpline (SAMHSA)
1 (800) 622-4357

Veterans Counseling Hotline
1 (866) 838-7654

Psychiatric Assessment & Referral Services
(Assessment, Individual Therapy, and Intensive Outpatient Programs)

Anew Wellness, LLC
(732) 328-2639

Catholic Charities
(908) 722-1881

EmPoWER Family Success Center
(908) 722-4400

Family & Community Services of Somerset
(732) 356-1082

GenPsych PC
(855) 436-7792

High Focus Centers
1 (800) 877-3628

Jewish Family Service
(908) 725-7799

Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center
(908) 725-2800

Samaritan Homeless Interim Program
(908) 722-1232

Veterans Administration – Lyons
(908) 647-0180 Ext. 4269

Residential Facilities & Inpatient Programs
(*Residential Substance Abuse Programs | **Acute/Inpatient Mental Health Facilities)

Alternative, Inc.*

Carrier Clinic**

Freedom House (for Adult Males)*

Princeton House Behavioral Health**

RWJ University Hospital Somerset**

Touchstone Hall*

Self-Help/Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous

Easter Seals Society of NJ Intensive Family Support Services (IFSS)

Freedom Trail Self-Help Center

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) New Jersey

Narcotics Anonymous

New Jersey Al-Anon

NJ Self-Help Clearinghouse

Substance Abuse Treatment Services

Anew Wellness, LLC

Carrier Clinic

High Focus Centers

Princeton House Behavioral Health

The Center for Great Expectations

Community Substance Abuse Prevention Services

EmPoWER Somerset

Municipal Alliance Coordinator

Somerset Treatment Services

Disclaimer: Information provided by this directory is intended to provide a guide to mental health and substance abuse resources in Somerset County and surrounding areas. However, the information contained is not exhaustive. No warranty, representation or undertaking is made about the content, accuracy and completeness of the information provided. For a more comprehensive listing or other local, public or private bodies, please contact NJ Department of Human Services at 609-292-3717.

You can also check out our list of Helpful Resources in our Resource Center for more organizations and support groups.

If you have found this information helpful, consider attending our next webinar on teen suicide prevention.