News Article Details

Commentary: Mental health care should be part of back-to-school checklist

Austin American-Statesman - 8/27/2019

As we close out the first week of school, many parents and caretakers are crossing off items on their to-do list: buying school supplies, getting new clothes, taking care of annual physical and dental appointments. There's another issue that deserves their attention: their child's mental health.

As a licensed psychologist trained in school psychology, I know starting a new school or grade or heading to a new campus can be stressful for students. It's common for students to face anxiety over friends or classes. We as parents, teachers, counselors and clinicians need to be attuned to our students' mental health needs and be aware of issues beyond the normal start-of-school jitters, because student mental health issues are very real and affecting more students and families.

According to the National Survey of Children's Health, about 35 million children in the United States have experienced emotional and psychological trauma, which negatively impacts their ability to learn, thrive and prosper.

The start of school is a good time to sit with your child and listen to them, anticipate their questions and talk through their anxious moments. It's also a good time for school personnel to prepare for the next year and consider how they can help students with issues beyond the typical back-to-school anxiety.

In the Austin school district, staffers, students and families have opportunities to secure mental health services through an innovative partnership with Vida Clinic, which puts access to ongoing clinical mental health services right in our schools.

This innovative partnership began in 2011 with a pilot project at Crockett High School, where Vida Clinic opened a school-based clinic and, working with school counselors and other staff, began offering ongoing, clinical mental health services to the entire school community. Now Vida Clinic has facilities on 43 Austin campuses across all grade levels. Our clinics are full time and fully staffed, and offer services over school breaks, including the summer. In all of our clinics, as in virtually all medical services, students under 18 must be seen with the permission of a parent or guardian.

Vida Clinic offers a model of connected care – involving families, counselors and others with whom a student interacts on a regular basis. This type of connected care is becoming the standard for supporting the mental health needs of students and school communities overall. Further, the Vida Clinic approach is breaking down barriers to care and delivering real results.

From an access perspective, our innovative, on-campus system ensures parents do not miss work to take students to therapy and that students miss minimal school time to attend sessions since they access care with a campus-based therapist.

As for results, during the 2017-18 school year, we found that students who had received long-term treatment in high schools had improved attendance, reduced behavior problems, and improved standardized test performance compared to a control group from the general student population.

In addition, over the course of treatment, our outcomes showed that individual students experienced a decline in psychological distress, as well as improved self-esteem, problem solving and overall behavior functioning.

As an on-campus therapist, I have seen first-hand how access to school-based services help schools detect problems early, remove the stigma of mental health issues, and create a holistic system of care where families and educators are part of the approach.

Let's use the start of school for all of us to think about a mental health checkup -- for students, families, educators and entire school communities -- to ensure everyone in need of care is able to access the support they need.

Minne, a licensed psychologist who specializes in school psychology, is the co-founder and CEO of Vida Clinic.


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