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.

  • When surveyed, 16% of high school students believed they had a long term emotional or mental health problem.  22% of high school students reported symptoms of depression.  7% actually attempted suicide (WI Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2007).  
  • The suicide rate for 10-19 year olds is the 13th highest in the nation and for students 10-14, the suicide rate is the   5th highest  nationwide.  (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1995-2005). Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens after motor vehicle accidents. (WI DHFS, 1995-2005).
  • The State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction states “schools are clearly burdened with high numbers of students with severe mental illness and high costs in meeting their needs” and there are “inadequate levels of community based mental health services available to meet the needs of their students” (2008).
  • Surveyed school psychologists and nurses in Wisconsin, as well as reports from state pupil services and  special education directors noted mental health as a top concern and challenge (DPI, 2008).
  • Schools are reporting more serious mental health problems in more of their students at a younger age including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (DPI, 2008).
  • Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (2007) notes “… schools that promote mental health awareness report higher academic achievement, lower absenteeism, and fewer behavior problems.  Identifying issues early is key to improving outcomes for students, families, schools and communities.”
  • Improving the mental health of all students will help all schools progress toward State Superintendent Tony Evers’ (2009) educational goal for all children to attend safe and respectful 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: 

  •  Collaboration with NASP to lower school psychologist caseload from Wisconsin’s current ratio of 1100:1 to a ratio comparable to those recommended for other student services professionals.
  • Educational awareness and training on warning signs of mental illness for school staff, students and parents.
  • Universal screening for mental health related needs for all students  PreK-12
  • Development and adoption of statewide social emotional learning standards
  • Preservice training and continuing professional development to promote the delivery of school based mental health services consistent with current best practices.
  • Continued and expanded funding at state and national levels so that all schools can support the mental health needs of students.
  • All schools develop a cohesive and integrated continuum of interventions with families and community resources to meet the needs of each child.  



Adelman, H.S., & Taylor, L. (2000).  Moving prevention from the fringes into the fabric of school improvement.  Journal of 
      Educational  and Psychological Consultation, 11, 7-36.

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.  (2006).  Retrieved April 10, 2006, from  
Doll, B. & Cummings, J.A.  (2008)  Best Practices in Population Based School Mental Health Services.
Evers, T.  (2009,  July 7).  Every Child a Graduate.  Retrieved 10-25-09 from
Haertel, G.D.,  Walberg, H.J.,  & Weinstein, T. (1983).  Psychological models of educational performance:  A theoretical
of constructs.  Review of Education Research, 53, 75-92.
Larson, J. (2008).  Best Practices in School Violence Prevention in A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best Practices in School
(pp. 1291-1307). Bethesda, MD:  National Association of School Psychologists.
Masten, A.S., Roisman, G.I., Long, J.D., Burt, K.B., Obradovic, J., Riley, J.R., et al. (2005).  Developmental cascades: 
academic achievement and externalizing and internalizing symptoms over 20 years. Developmental Psychology, 41,

Pluymert, K. ( 2008).  Best practices in developing exemplary mental health programs in schools. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes
Best Practices in School Psychology IV (pp. 963-975).  Bethesda, MD:  National Association of School Psychologists.
US Department of Health and Human Services. (1999).  Mental Health:  A Report of the Surgeon General.  Rockville, MD:  U.S.Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for
Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health.
Wang, M.C., Haertel, G.D., & Walberg, H.J. (1990). What influences learning?  A content analysis of review literature.  
     Journal of Educational Research,84, 30-43.
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  (2007).  Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  Retrieved 10-25-09 from

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  ( 2008, July 1) Background Analysis on Mental Health Related Service in WI
Retrieved 10-25-09 from
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction & Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. (2007).  Retrieved 9-
     25-09 from
Years 1995-2005, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WIQARS.  Retrieved 3-19-08 from  
Years 1995-2005, WI DHFS WISH data system.  Retrieved 10-25-09 

Contact Us!

Your voice matters to us.   If you have any questions, suggestions, photos or resources, please contact our President Tonya Klem at 

For website suggestions or concerns please contact Don Juve at

Join Us!

WSPA is pleased to support the school psychologists in our ever changing role in the State of Wisconsin.  Please join us as we work to benefit the children we serve.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software