Expert Viewpoint

3 Ways Technology Can Help Schools Address the Mental Health Crisis

We have a mental health crisis in our schools.

If you talk to any teacher, administrator, or guidance counselor, you will undoubtedly hear stories about students struggling to cope with everything from significant trauma to their day-to-day responsibilities.

Across the board, depression and drug use are on the rise, while academic progress and development are in decline.

Collectively, 70% of public schools report a rise in students seeking support services. In response, two-thirds of schools have increased and diversified their mental health services. Half are providing extra training to teachers that better equip them to support students’ social, emotional, and mental health.

After consecutive pandemic years, this school year is an opportunity to help students return to holistic wellness, putting them on a path to success for years to come. But no single entity or institution can achieve this cornerstone outcome alone. Responding to the far-reaching mental health crisis in our schools requires close collaboration between students, families, schools, community organizations, and more.

Simply put, collaboration is key to supporting students. Following are three ways schools can enhance their collaboration practices to help their students achieve holistic wellness this school year.

Provide a Single On-Ramp to Support Services

While social-emotional learning, a declining social stigma, and more accessible resources have made students more likely to seek support for mental health or other challenges, many are still hesitant to do so. According to one survey, a third of students are “reluctant to seek help for mental health issues.”

Their reasons are multifaceted and instructive. Many didn’t think their issues were “big enough to bother someone with,” and more than half didn’t want their parents to know they are working with a counselor or thought school staff would treat them differently. Ultimately, as Scientific American summarized, for many students “seeking assistance can feel like you are broadcasting your incompetence.”

That’s why schools need to eliminate barriers to support services by making it easier for students to access a variety of services through a single on-ramp.

For example, when a student communicates a need to a teacher, coach, counselor, administrator, social worker, or other trusted adult, these student advocates need a secure, effective process for sharing this information with qualified support services.

Currently, many school staff are doing their best, relying on shared documents, email, and hallway interactions to communicate needs. This is imprecise and difficult to follow, putting an unnecessary barrier to better student outcomes.

In contrast, a “one front door” intake process allows students to share their stories just one time while gaining access to a variety of support services. Whether they are grappling with mental health concerns, food insecurity, or substance abuse, students can access multiple services that promote holistic health outcomes.

Streamline and Expand Onboarding

To facilitate this process, develop or implement a collaborative records database so that all stakeholders can leverage an accessible, secure platform that supports a one-front-door intake process.

When schools have the right digital infrastructure in place, they can better support an efficient and effective onboarding process.

For example, rather than waiting for students in crisis to come forward, schools could distribute a private survey that allows them to express needs through an online form. This puts early intervention — a critical aspect of effective response efforts — within closer reach.

Similarly, create and distribute a “recommender” resource that allows employees, families, or other stakeholders to identify at-risk students, streamlining the referral process and allowing students to encounter more care opportunities more quickly.

Early intervention coupled with appropriate treatment can help prevent students' symptoms from worsening while positioning them to receive the support they need to restore holistic wellness. Streamlining and expanding onboarding makes this more possible, and it’s an important pillar for schools responding to students’ mental health and other related challenges.

Work Together to Improve Outcomes

It’s no secret that schools are often understaffed and underfunded, relying on limited resources and finite staffing to meet expensive students' academic and social-emotional needs. To meet the moment, schools must increase collaboration both within their walls and throughout their communities.

Schools with digital case management solutions in place can more easily facilitate relationships with interconnected agencies and support services. For students, outcomes can be incredible.

According to a Rutgers University study on the impact of interconnected support services, “more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, this collaboration has helped improve child well-being, financial stability and the relationship between children and their caregivers.”

When teachers, counselors, administrators, or schools operate as an island, their impact is limited. However, when they meet the moment together, they are positioned to help students thrive, turning the tide on the difficult challenges facing our students today.

About the Author

Gary Pettengell is CEO of Empowering Communities through Integrated Network Systems, is a social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable people and empowering the practitioners who serve them. A cloud-based secure case management system, ECINS is the most widely used multi-agency collaboration tool in the United Kingdom and is rapidly expanding in the U.S. and around the world. Learn more at the ECINS website.