Because children spend much of their time at school, schools can be the perfect setting for promoting mental health awareness. Schools can help students learn about mental health and access helpful resources. But in order to take full advantage of this opportunity, we must first break the stigma attached to mental illness.
In the United States, about one in six children aged 6 to 17 experience mental health symptoms each year. And yet, only about half of youth with mental health symptoms have received treatment in the past year.
Schools can provide a positive space for promoting mental health awareness. They can also offer an opportunity to identify mental health symptoms and connect students with resources such as therapy.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an effective and holistic form of counseling for at-risk youth that treats children and teenagers in the context of the systems surrounding them. This includes working with and through schools. MST is shown to improve behavior, academic performance, and general mental well-being.
Understanding the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health in Schools
The stigma surrounding mental health is society-wide and can appear in school settings.
In many communities, mental health challenges are seen as a sign of weakness or laziness. Adults often insist that conditions like depression didn’t exist “back in their day.” In contrast, conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be seen as a discipline issue when in reality, it is a neurodevelopmental condition.
These myths and stereotypes permeate schools. Teachers — even when well-intended — may misunderstand mental health issues, and students may mimic the attitudes portrayed by their elders.
This stigma makes it hard to promote mental well-being because:
- Students may feel afraid to ask for help and receive treatment at school.
- Students may bully peers who need help.
- Teachers may not recognize when students need help.
- Administrators may not prioritize mental health education.
- Teachers may teach harmful and false ideas about mental health to their students.
- Students with mental health conditions may develop a poor self-image.
The Importance of Mental Health Education in Schools
Mental health education can help break the stigma and increase awareness among students.
Much of the stigma attached to mental illness is based on falsehoods and misconceptions. When we counter those falsehoods with facts, more students will realize that mental health symptoms are common, manageable, treatable, and nothing to be ashamed of.
Schools provide the perfect opportunity for mental health education. Many students may not have access to resources outside of school, and parents may not be well-equipped to teach their children about mental wellness.
Mental health education can help students:
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses.
- Learn where to find mental health help.
- Become more supportive of peers and loved ones who need help.
- Challenge harmful stereotypes about mental wellness
- Learn valuable skills, such as communication skills, relaxation techniques, and anger-management approaches.
MST Treatment can help support student mental health by:
- Connecting students to mental healthcare services, including trauma-informed treatment and substance use treatment
- Collaborating with schools to address learning challenges
- Giving social skills training to students
- Offering parenting skills training to the caregivers of at-risk youth
- Providing 24/7 crisis support to families who need it
Additionally, MST therapists offer collaborative support to overwhelmed teachers and school counselors, enabling them to address students’ mental health needs more effectively and appropriately.
Partly through mental health interventions, MST effectively reduces anti-social and criminal behavior in at-risk youth. This could reduce the prevalence of potentially traumatizing events that take place at school — such as violent crime and bullying — thus fostering safer and mentally healthier communities.
Building Resilience and Transforming Lives Through MST Treatment
MST is a holistic and evidence-based alternative to incarcerating at-risk youths. Criminal and antisocial behavior can often be caused by mental health challenges — including difficulty regulating emotions, substance use issues, and difficulty coping with trauma.
MST takes the opposite approach — instead of further traumatizing at-risk youths, it gets to the root causes of mental health difficulties and provides appropriate support. MST treats youths in the context of the systems they’re a part of, including their home, school, and community. Each family receives treatments and interventions based on their needs.
MST can help youths and their families access services like:
- individual, family, and group therapy
- drug and alcohol treatment
- educational support
- social skills training
- parenting skills training
- crisis intervention
Evidence shows that MST improves family relations. MST strengthens a child’s support system by supporting families as a whole. Healthy relationships, a stable home, and supportive loved ones play a vital role in mental wellness.
Creating a School Environment Conducive to Positive Mental Health
Although mental health stigma can be prevalent in schools, it’s also possible for schools to be safe, supportive environments where students can learn about mental health, ask for help when necessary, and offer support to peers who need it.
- To improve mental health education in schools, education systems can: Include classes about mental health in the curriculum.
- Host guest speakers who can talk about mental health, self-care, and accessing help.
- Create workshops on wellness topics — for example, relaxation techniques or anger-management strategies.
- Run awareness campaigns that dispel myths, share essential resources, and normalize talking about mental health.
- Create a school counselor-run support group(s).
- Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in students.
- Connect students with the right interventions.
- Initiate supportive conversations about emotions and/or mental health in the classroom.
- Model respect for people who have mental health issues.
- Gently correct students who make stigmatizing remarks about mental health.
- Point to relevant celebrities, athletes, and historical figures who have or have/had mental health conditions.
MST is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of interventions within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs, which could include but is not limited to the following types of therapies: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol Treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.