|Mental Health Position Paper|
Wisconsin School Psychologists Association, Inc
Mental Health Position Statement
Student mental health challenges have become a major barrier to learning in schools. Schools are charged with achieving positive learning outcomes for all students. Mental health is directly related to students’ learning. Mental health encompasses or intersects with interpersonal relationships, social emotional skills, behavior, academic motivation, certain disabilities, mental illness, crisis prevention and response, school safety, and substance abuse. Each of these issues can affect not only the well being and learning outcomes of the individual student, but also the school climate and learning outcomes for all students. Untreated mental health needs can lead to poor grades, failure to complete high school, and in some cases has led to violent behavior, contributing to unsafe school environments. Nationally, the rate of mental health disorders has been estimated to be about 20% (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).
In Wisconsin, empirical and anecdotal data point to increased reason to focus on mental health in our schools.
Research demonstrates that mentally healthy students are more successful in school. It is important to recognize that mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness; it also means having the skills necessary to cope with life’s challenges. Developmental research since the 1970s demonstrates that mental health and psychological wellness are not ancillary to school success but are integral to it (Doll & Cummings, 2008; Haertel, Walberg & Weinstein, 1983; Masten et al., 2005;Wang, Haertel, and Walberg, 1990). Adelman and Taylor (2000) promote the full integration of mental health practices in the instruction and management of schools because social and emotional competence enables students to be academically competent. In addition, social and emotional education, which may include instruction in conflict resolution, problem solving, empathy, and emotional self regulation is a primary prevention strategy likely to prevent the onset of negative developmental outcomes including violence. (Larson, 2008; Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), 2006).
With their uniquely specialized training in linking mental health to learning and behavior, school psychologists play a key role in breaking down barriers to learning. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) section 5131 (14) supports the “expansion and improvement of school based mental health service, including early identification of drug use and violence, assessment, and direct individual or group counseling services provided to students, parents, and school personnel by qualified school based mental health services personnel.” Providing mental health services in the school settings makes sense because children and youth are required to be in school for significant portions of their lives. Providing mental health services in the school setting also affords some excellent solutions to the problems families face accessing services such as shortages of community mental health providers, lack of transportation, and cost of services (Pluymert, 2008). School psychologists can be an outstanding resource to the school community in the development of effective mental health services to address the needs of students and families that they service. School psychologists are trained to support students’ social emotional competencies through prevention and intervention. These services help to build and strengthen the foundation for mental health andpositive learning outcomes.
Call to Action. The need for school based mental health services has become increasingly apparent. To improve learning outcomes for all children, it is vital that WSPA and all school psychologists become proactive in advocating for the following:
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