The need for mental health care for students has increased steadily in recent years. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services mental health dashboard, the number of children who received ongoing, high-intensity mental health services in 2019 was 36 percent higher than just five years earlier. The number who received short-term situational care was up 14 percent over the same time period.
To meet the need, SaintA expanded our reach with school based mental health in 23 schools in 2019, which is about a 50 percent increase from 2018.
One of the 165 individual students who receives care from SaintA attends Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wisconsin. We will call him, “T.”
According to Kimberly Christensen, a Child and Family Therapist with SaintA, “Arrowhead partners with us to integrate mental health and education. It’s an approach that allows students like “T” to remain in school, full-time, with his peers rather than in an alternative placement.”
Anxiety, depression, and/or unresolved trauma that disrupts educational success are all common signs a student may benefit from mental health services. With disruptions from COVID-19, the need is likely to increase.
T was misunderstood and had a short temper prior to being seen by Kimberly. “He struggles with regulation and volume,” Kimberly says. A trauma informed approach to learning and mental health prompted a quick improvement in his educational journey.
At one point, T, who also has developmental delays, was struggling with being around girls in the classroom. This therapist-school partnership allowed case managers to work directly with teachers to rearrange T’s seating arrangement without disturbing anyone else in the classroom.
T also seems to have benefited from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (commonly called talk therapy).
DBT explores how to best communicate emotions. The primary goal is to help clients regulate, live in the moment, and improve relationships. DBT focuses on the use of “I” statements and unlearning unhealthy behavior.
Collaboration is Key
Collaboration is key in successfully providing mental health services to students. First, there’s agreement among students, their families and teachers that this program is right for them. Then, there’s the partnership between SaintA and schools like Arrowhead, willing to add tools to the traditional educational environment to help students like T thrive.
There’s also the collective power of SaintA programs like school based mental health and trauma sensitive schools.
Related: Train the Trainer, Transform a School: Case study about Vel R. Phillips School
Integrated School Based Model
Trauma sensitive schools have emerged as an educational best practice due to an increased understanding of the prevalence of adversity – and its impact on the developing brain.
SaintA uses the Integrated School Based Model, which is a three-tiered approach. The model introduces a range of services, ranging from broad to individualized.
Related: Read Three Tiers, One Plan
Therapists, trainers and coaches can introduce schools to professional training and development; implement social-emotional learning concepts in classrooms; and emphasize individual and family therapy through a clinic co-located within the school.
Students are then wrapped in a supportive team of therapist, teachers, and families, who collaborate and commit to meeting a student’s educational, behavioral and mental health needs.
Improved Learning Experiences
In the classroom, students receive an individualized focus on skills that promote regulation. At Arrowhead, one student liked to exercise, one was a fan of coloring and another had a specific tablet game they liked to play in order to self-regulate.
Over the course of the last school year, there was a huge reduction in aggressive incidents involving students in the program. One student even went from routinely breaking chalk boards and hurling objects across the room to only one aggressive moment later in the year.
“Success comes in many different ways,” says Kimberly, who plans to be back at Arrowhead this fall, whether that be in-school or online.