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Innovative Approaches to Improving Mental Health in Schools

Adolescence is a crucial time frame for developing the emotional and social habits that create steady mental health. It’s during this time frame that young adults learn to do things like:

  1. Develop healthy sleep routines
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Develop interpersonal skills
  4. Create problem-solving abilities
  5. Develop coping skills
  6. Learn to manage emotions

In order to facilitate all of these gains, adolescents need protective home and school environments. Adolescents are exposed to several forms of adversity in schools, particularly the pressure to conform with their peers, determine their identity, balance aspirations for the future as well as deal with parenting styles, the quality of their relationships in school and outside of school, as well as bullying or other violence.

Those who lack access to mental health support or services, struggle with discrimination or have poor living conditions are at greater risk of developing mental health conditions, and these mental health conditions can increase the risk of self-harm, risk-taking behaviors, or suicide. 

According to NAMI, 1 in 6 American children aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. Shockingly, 50-80% of students in school never receive the help they need. 

mental health in schools

Critical importance of mental health in schools

In fact, many risk-taking behaviors like sexual risk-taking or substance abuse begin during adolescence as an unhelpful coping strategy to deal with emotional challenges. Males are at a higher risk for things like binge drinking, but 13.6% of children between the ages of 15 and 19 struggle with regular binge drinking.


  • According to the WHO, 3.6% of 10-14-year-olds have an anxiety disorder.
  • 4.6% of 15-19 year olds have an anxiety disorder.
  • 1.1% of youths 10-14 years old have depression,
  • 2.8% of 15-19 year olds have depression.

Depression and anxiety disorders can have a profound impact on school attendance, school work, academic performance, and social engagement and lead to isolation or suicide. 


  • According to the WHO, 3.1% of 10-14 year olds have ADHD
  • 2.4% of 15-19 year olds have ADHD.
  • 3.1% of 10-14 year olds struggle with a conduct disorder.
  • 2.4% of 15-19-year-olds have been diagnosed with a conduct disorder.

ADHD and other behavioral disorders have an effect on education, how difficult it is for a student to pay attention, how often they act impulsively with no regard to the consequences, and the potential for destructive behavior. 

Mental health in schools is unnecessary intervention to strengthen the critical skills children develop at this stage like emotional regulation and coping skills that serve as an alternative to risk-taking behaviors. Figuring out how to improve mental health in schools can enable children to build resilience when facing adversity and promote a supportive school environment.

It is crucial that schools and mental health utilize early detection and treatment programs that promote and prevent mental health issues in children. 

Common barriers to effective mental health support in educational systems

Improving mental health in schools can seem challenging, if not impossible, in some situations. For starters, mental health services in an educational setting require trained mental health professionals. This means schools need the budget and resources to train School social workers or school psychologists.

Other barriers to providing mental health in schools have to do with issues of stigma, where children may not realize the importance of early identification and treatment for themselves and where families might also have stigmas that interfere with their children getting the help they need.

In some cases, other barriers include scheduling conflicts and transportation issues, particularly if students are unable to get the help they need during the school day.

Innovative approaches to mental health in schools

Thankfully, there are ways to improve mental health in schools.

Integrating mental health education into the curriculum

For starters, figuring out how to improve mental health in schools centers on having mental health education integrated into the regular curriculum. Mental health education has to be woven into various subjects so that children are educated about mental health literacy from an early age.

  • Staff and educators can promote confidence, self-care, coping skills, and skills to reframe stress as part of their curriculum.
  • Teachers can reinforce positive behaviors with an empowering curriculum.
  • Teachers can add volunteerism initiatives to the curriculum to encourage students to help one another.

This type of literacy extends to understanding the common signs and symptoms of different conditions, what factors can trigger certain symptoms, and why it’s important to speak openly about issues students have and get the help they need.

The more commonly integrated this type of education is into the curriculum, the easier it is for schools to overcome stigma-based barriers.

School-wide mental health programs

Schools and mental health programs need to offer accessibility that overcomes barriers like scheduling conflicts. Schools can play an important role in helping students get the early help they need by providing services from trained professionals, which are accessible to students and their families both during the school day and after. With school-wide programs, children can be connected to the services they need at any time, reducing barriers like transportation or schedule.

  • School-wide programs can give students who have been diagnosed with flexible deadlines for school work.
  • Students can be given advanced warning to control anxiety if they are performing public speaking or group work.
  • Accommodations with a 504 or IEP can be supplemented. 

Digital and technological solutions

Tangentially, another way of improving mental health in schools is to incorporate digital and technological solutions. Some students might still struggle with stigma, transportation issues, or other barriers to entry, but schools can leverage apps, online platforms, and digital resources to provide mental health support.

Today, virtual counseling services are expanding access to care, especially in schools where trained professionals like school counselors, psychologists, or school social workers cannot be fully employed by schools or may not have the training they need in a given area.

Training for educators and staff

Training for educators and staff is crucial when it comes to figuring out how to improve mental health in schools. Early treatment is the most effective way to handle mental health issues and can help young individuals stay on track in terms of academic achievements and other life goals, but there are often delays, especially when educators and staff don’t understand the signs and symptoms, what role they play in facilitating connection to mental health services, and the importance of proactive and preventative measures.

Community and family engagement

Equally important is getting community and family engagement. While children certainly spend 1/3 of their day in school, the rest of the time is spent with the family and with the community. There need to be strategies for involving parents and the wider community in mental health initiatives in order for mental health in schools to be successful.

This can include:

  • Free mental health training offered on campus for community members
  • Training for school parents on the digital and technological solutions offered by a school
  • Free trials of things like family therapy for students struggling with an identifiable mental health disorder and their families

Summing Up

Overall, there are several innovative strategies for improving mental health in schools. Each of these has the potential to catch mental health issues early, provide prevention tips, and improve school performance. It is essential that everyone participate in mental health in schools including educators, policymakers, and communities. Take the time to invest in mental health in schools and help children get the care they need. 

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