By Martha Staeheli, PhD, Director, School Mental Health Initiative, New England MHTTC
In the evolving education landscape, prioritizing mental health within schools is becoming increasingly recognized as a cornerstone for fostering a nurturing and productive learning environment.
My experience, spanning roles as an elementary educator, collegiate instructor, and researcher in psychiatry and public health, has provided me with a unique perspective on the integration of mental health interventions in educational settings. The journey towards improving mental health literacy and dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health issues in schools is complex but immensely rewarding. With the myriad tools and strategies available to address the mental health and well-being of students and staff, the challenge often lies in selecting the most effective approaches tailored to the unique needs of each school or district.
The New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) School Mental Health Initiative, in collaboration with the National MHTTC, has identified the field's most impactful practices and resources. These free resources aim to support educators, administrators, and mental health professionals in enhancing the mental health ecosystem within their schools.
Classroom WISE is a comprehensive training package designed to elevate mental health literacy among K-12 educators. A video library, vast resources, and a dedicated website complement this free, self-paced online course. It focuses on promoting student mental health and well-being alongside understanding and supporting students experiencing adversity and distress.
Why Classroom WISE Stands Out: It addresses the critical gap in education and training for educators and school staff, equipping them with the knowledge and tools needed to foster an environment conducive to mental health and well-being. The co-development process, involving educators and school mental health professionals across the United States, ensures the course is grounded in real-world applicability and relevance.
As a new addition and complement to Classroom WISE, CIE WISE offers a focused exploration of how educational inequities and implicit bias affect student mental health. This free training package, similar in structure to Classroom WISE, provides educators and school staff with insights into promoting cultural self-awareness and understanding the impact of social injustices on students.
Why CIE WISE Stands Out: It builds upon the foundational knowledge provided by Classroom WISE, offering strategies for creating culturally inclusive and equitable classroom environments. This training is pivotal in preparing educators to effectively support the mental health and well-being of all students, particularly those experiencing adversity, distress, and mental health concerns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also contributed significantly to this field. Its Action Guide, Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being in Schools, outlines six in-school strategies that support mental health and well-being. It details specific approaches for implementing these strategies, providing examples of evidence-based policies, programs, and practices.
Why the CDC Action Guide Stands Out: It aligns seamlessly with the Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework used by numerous schools and districts. This guide enhances existing efforts to support students at varying levels of need, reinforcing the foundation for a supportive and effective school mental health framework.
This resource package contains comprehensive resources designed to assist states, districts, and schools in advancing and implementing comprehensive school mental health systems. These modules offer trainer and participant manuals, eight module slide decks for one-hour sessions, and recorded virtual learning sessions for an in-depth exploration of the content. The guidance focuses on core components such as educator and student support, collaboration, multi-tiered supports, evidence-informed services, cultural responsiveness, and data-driven decision-making. Targeted at district teams—including leaders, administrators, mental health directors, and community agency supervisors—the modules aim to influence the development and oversight of school mental health systems.
Why the Implementation Guidance Modules Stand Out:
They align with national performance domains and indicators, providing extensive resources and tools for adaptation and contextualization. Additionally, the Southeast MHTTC has created short videos for each module to aid in familiarization, and the modules have seen significant global engagement, with over 4,000 downloads. An accompanying index offers easy navigation to the resources within each module.
Learn more about the Guidance Modules and access this free resource here.
Building a Strong Foundation
Creating a supportive environment for mental health in schools is akin to laying the foundation for a compassionate, resilient community. Schools serve not just as educational institutions but as sanctuaries for students, offering glimpses into broader societal contexts and opportunities for growth. Schools can significantly impact students' mental health and well-being by establishing safe, supportive environments, fostering connections with caring adults, and linking students and their families to community mental health services.
Promoting mental health in schools leads to improved classroom behavior, enhanced engagement, and better peer relationships, all crucial for academic success. The resources highlighted here represent just a fraction of what is available to schools committed to supporting their students' mental health.
We invite you to explore these best practices and resources, integrate them into your school's mental health strategy, and share your experiences. Your insights and feedback are invaluable as we continue to navigate the complex yet rewarding journey of supporting mental health in educational settings.