Preparing for Back to School

Preparing for Back to School

“Mental health is a sensitive subject amongst a lot of people, but it doesn’t need to be. We need to talk about it more; get rid of the stigma.” ~Prince Harry Duke of Sussex  Before district and building leaders welcome staff and students back to school for the 2022-2023 school year, many of them are continuing to work on school improvement plans, which could consist of re-working bell schedules to ensuring students have the added support they need to be successful academically and socially while on campus. Superintendents and principals, especially, are aware they need to address the continued demand for supporting teacher and student burnout as well as mental health conditions experienced by their students, staff and even themselves, while back to school prepping.  Unfortunately, mental health illnesses are often stigmatized, overlooked and misunderstood. However, if more people were to openly talk about their experiences with depression or anxiety disorders, it could help others share their own stories, and let them know it’s okay to seek help. “It is becoming more common for students to struggle with stress and anxiety. Students often feel like their mental health isn’t as important as maintaining an A in a class. I would push myself to the extremes to make everything perfect before turning in an assignment,” said Jensen Stone, an 18-year-old 2022 Arizona high school graduate. “Having mental health services offered to all students in schools would [help them] build social skills and connections with strong adult figures. Everyone needs support to show they aren’t alone in whatever they may be dealing with.”  

Mental Health Crisis in School-aged Children

 For more than 20 years, a mental health crisis has been impacting schools and their youth across the country. But within the last two and half years, there has been an increase in mental health illnesses among school-aged children. As reported by the Children’s Hospital Association, from January to September of 2021, there were more than 47,000 mental health visits to emergency rooms at 38 children’s hospitals nationwide. That’s 40% higher than during the same time in 2020. In May, a press release from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) stated that since the start of the pandemic, 70 percent of public schools reported there was an increase in the percentage of their students who sought mental health services at school. The survey also found that about 76 percent of schools noted that their staff disclosed that students were exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety, and trauma.  “The pandemic has taken a clear and significant toll on students’ mental health. This snapshot of the pandemic’s mental health impact is critical in informing the need for student mental health services,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. The information released by the NCES came from data collected from the 830 schools that participated in an experimental, monthly School Pulse Panel between April 12 and 26. The panel was designed to be nationally representative of K-12 public schools.   

Obstacles Faced by School Staff

Since the pandemic began, many high school and elementary counselors feel overwhelmed trying to support all their students suffering from mental health problems. With some of these counselors not able to help their students, many students are seeking advice and help from a teacher they trust. However, many teachers haven‘t been trained in how to support mental health needs in students.         “Supporting students on campus is a shared responsibility, but teachers really are bearing the brunt of it since they are consistently interacting with their students,” said Jon Ebert, a mental health program manager at E-Therapy, a provider of teletherapy services to PreK-12 students and schools nationwide. “For a lot of students, their teachers are some of the closest adults in their lives. When a student doesn’t want to talk to their parents about something, they often go to a teacher. Since many teachers already are put in the position of helping students with their problems, it’s important that teachers are actually trained to do so,” said 18-year-old Zaneta Disang, a recent Arizona high school graduate. For everyone, especially educators, it’s important they are aware of their students’ mental well-being and understand the importance of supporting students who are struggling, but that they also are aware of their own mental health. The NCES also found that educators from six in 10 schools expressed they were worried about theirs and their co-workers’ mental health. “Initially, a lot of focus was given to students and their ever changing needs, but more recently, we know teachers and support staff also need to be healthy,” said Diana Parafiniuk, founder and chief innovation officer of E-Therapy.  “Everyone should have supports in place for their mental health and that includes educators and other school staff members. They need support because sometimes dealing with emotions can be difficult regardless of [age],” Disang said. “For educators to do their job effectively, they need to be in a good place mentally. They won’t truly be able to teach students if their mental health is bad.”  What’s more, is that for the last decade, the number of yearly suicides reported has increased, and recently, the age range has dropped to include elementary-aged students as well.  “While supporting schools nationally, one of the biggest things we’ve seen is that with increased students needing mental health supports, there are increased students at risk of suicidal ideation,” explained Ashley Sanders, a mental health program manager at E-Therapy. “Suicide risk assessments are a reality for schools.”  Recently, The Trevor Project, an American non-profit organization, reported that 45 percent of LGBTQ youth considered attempting suicide in the past year. Futhermore, the suicide rate for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives is the highest in the country among racial and ethnic groups per On July 16,  the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 10-digit phone number changed to 988. Individuals can call or text the 24/7 mental health hotline to reach a trained counselor.  In addition, research shows that after a year, and in some cases two years, of students learning in a fully remote and/or hybrid setting, many of them behaved younger than their age. Because of the isolation, many students struggled with how to deal with their emotions, and were unable to focus in class and showed symptoms of depression and sadness. Some, mainly seen in the older students, lashed out by pushing or shoving each other in hallways, vandalizing school property or even getting into fights.  Also included in the NCES press release was that staff at 88 percent of the polled public schools did not feel they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need. They felt they had an insufficient number of mental health professionals to manage their school’s caseload, inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals, and inadequate funding.    

E-Therapy Can Help Eliminate these Obstacles

 Nevertheless, there are solutions to the ever-growing concern of providing support to combat children’s mental health. E-Therapy offers teletherapy services to assist with creating comprehensive infrastructure through consultation and development of crisis support, suicide prevention, and staff wellness. E-Therapy understands the importance of prioritizing the health of students and staff. Launched a year ago, E-Therapy’s mental health programs address all tiers of student support. eQUIP, a self-paced, online professional development platform, provides staff members engaging and interactive information, tools, and resources, that can be immediately applied to the classroom, to help educators recognize, respond and recover from the impacts mental health challenges may have on their students.  Through its eWELLNESS program, teachers, school counselors, social workers and administrators can enroll in an interactive, six-week wellness series to help educators handle emotional stress. These “closed” sessions allow for rapport building, more intimate sharing, and greater structure to accomplish identified goals. Also, there are one-time, “drop-in” wellness sessions available that promote specific skills in wellness areas. In addition, E-Therapy’s mental health solutions can support a school in its entirety through a data-driven, evidenced-based assessment and screening bundle that includes a 48-hour referral system, and a solution-focused brief therapy program where participants receive evidenced-based, brief, and timely services focused on solutions and strengths.  

Additional Concerns and Services  

 For the past several years, it has been noted that there has been a significant decrease in speech language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and school psychologists supporting students in schools nationwide. When districts don’t have qualified individuals in these specific positions, students’ needs are not met. Although many school officials have felt the impacts of therapist shortgages, they know they need to continue offering high-quality services their students, families, and community deserve.  E-Therapy can help schools meet the needs of their students so they don’t suffer because of these vacancies. The more than 500 highly-qualified E-Therapists offer speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy to students in urban and rural areas that otherwise would not receive adequate and necessary school therapy services for students in grades preK-12. In addition, E-Therapy employs licensed school psychologists, who are able to complete psychoeducational assessments, mental health therapists, clinical social workers, and licensed professional counselors. E-Therapists are hired and trained to customize services to truly engage students on every level to ensure their success.  

What School Staff Can Do

 The best way educators can help someone struggling with mental illness is to be understanding and compassionate. The stigma around mental health continues, but with awareness and education, it can be overcome. “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.” ~Glenn Close (actress)  Connect with E-Therapy today to learn more about our mental health services by clicking HERE.

Derek Vogel

Derek Vogel is a highly experienced and results-driven leader, currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of E-Therapy. With over 15 years of experience in executive leadership, he has a proven track record of driving business growth and success. He is skilled in business development, organizational strategy, and employee engagement and has a reputation for designing effective strategies that have consistently yielded significant increases in revenue and cost savings. He has successfully managed businesses ranging from $10M to $100M+ in annual revenue, and has experience in leading organizations through post-acquisition integration processes. Prior to joining E-Therapy, Derek was the President of AMN Healthcare’s Education Healthcare Staffing business, where he provided on-site and virtual solutions for students in need of therapy services. He is known for mentoring and developing his team members and inspiring a sense of pride and ownership in the collective success of the organization.