Mental Health & Trauma
District leaders are concerned that their students are experiencing increased mental health issues; many students show signs of anxiety and depression. Some students are affected by childhood trauma — related to poverty, problems at home, or other adverse experiences — which can make it difficult for them to focus on learning. To address these concerns, school leaders and their staff members should be trauma-informed, but it can be difficult to prepare adults to respond to trauma and mental health issues. It is also difficult for teachers to fully serve in this role given the other pressures and requirements of their job. Districts are also responsible for supporting the physical wellbeing of students and adults in schools, by maintaining safe and secure school buildings. They must be prepared to respond to crises, and may face challenges such as bullying and the threat of gun violence.
In the Words of District Leaders
“We’re focused a lot now on the social and emotional wellbeing of students, in addition to the physical wellbeing of them, but we recognize that we have more students that are school-phobic, more students that are showing signs of depression.”
“What’s kept me up at night recently is this idea of school safety and security. We’re being proactive with our physical structures and controlling entry and access…If our number one priority is the safety of our students, how do we maintain that?”
Ideas from the Field
- Engaging parents in conversation and learning about trauma, mental health, and related issues is one approach several districts are taking. Some are also engaging community partners, especially where many parents are not English speakers or have other cultural differences where talking about mental health may seem more difficult.
- One district is incorporating wellness and mental health into the college counseling process, so that students are selecting colleges where they can not only succeed academically but can succeed in all areas.
- Another district shared how they survey students on mental health issues, and try to use that data to help all adults increase their awareness of what’s going on. They are working to create a new baseline in which the first inclination is not to discipline a child by removing them from the classroom, but to ask, “Where are we, and how I can de-escalate this situation?”
Check out the following research-based resources for more information about student mental health and trauma:
Trauma topic page – From Digital Promise, an introduction and key findings from the research on childhood trauma, including links to additional resources.
Trauma, Stress and Schools: Connecting the Dots between Science and Practice – Featuring Turnaround for Children and Digital Promise, this edWebinar empowers educators with knowledge of the science of learning and development so they can help more children reach their full potential as learners, no matter their start in life.
Trauma-Informed Classrooms – From the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, this report describes the purpose of trauma-informed classrooms and shares strategies for educators looking to adopt this approach.
How To Apply The Brain Science Of Resilience To The Classroom – From nprEd, this blog describes how one school is empowering children growing up in poverty with the research-based tools to transform their own developing brains.
Supporting Students With Chronic Trauma – From Edutopia, this blog shares de-escalation strategies that can help prevent students’ emotional outbursts, and aid them and their peers in finding calm after one.
Explore Data on Mental Health Services in K–12 Public Schools for Mental Health Awareness Month – From the National Center for Education Statistics, this site presents data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety on the availability of mental health diagnostic and treatment services for K12 students.