The Problem of Mental Health Treatment When School Is Out

By Nick Dobrzelecki, MBA, BSN, RN, Managing Partner and co-founder  

It’s summertime! While traditionally it’s a time of celebration for kids (“School’s Out!”), it can also be a time for stress and lack of socialization, leading to mental health issues. Several factors impact K-12 students’ mental health regardless of the time of year, but some are pervasive during the summer. One key challenge summer brings is the disruption in routine. Many K-12 students also have reduced (or eliminated) access to counselors, teachers and other adult role models who help bolster their mental wellness. Additionally, financial instability can lead to missed meals during the summer when students cannot rely on the school to provide breakfast and lunch, causing additional mental stress.

School nurses are acutely aware of the impact that school closure has on our students. Not only do they miss out on valuable learning opportunities, but they also lose access to the mental health services that they may have come to rely on. School is where students spend the majority of their time, and it is where they can be most easily identified and referred for treatment. School nurses can play a crucial role in identifying students who may need mental health support and connecting them with the appropriate resources. During the 2019–20 school year, 55 percent of public schools (or 45,600 schools) reported providing diagnostic mental health assessment services to evaluate students for mental health disorders. Mental health issues do not take a break just because school is out, and it is essential that we find ways to continue to support our students’ mental health, even when they are not in our care.

The first step in addressing the problem of mental health treatment during school closures is to recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health. Just as we would not send a student home with a broken arm without a referral to a doctor, students should not be sent home with a mental health issue without a referral to a mental health professional.

One way that schools can continue to support students’ mental health during school closures is through telehealth. Many mental health professionals are currently offering telehealth services, which can be a convenient and accessible way for students to receive the care they need. School nurses can work with mental health professionals in their communities to identify telehealth options for students.

In addition to telehealth, schools can also provide resources and information to students and families about mental health self-care. This can include information about stress management techniques, mindfulness exercises, and healthy habits that support mental health. School nurses can also provide referrals to community resources, such as support groups and crisis hotlines, that students can reach out to if they need help.

It is also important for schools to prioritize mental health services when they reopen. School nurses should work with their administrators to ensure that mental health services are available and accessible to students. This may involve hiring additional mental health professionals, increasing the availability of resources such as counseling and therapy, and providing ongoing training for school staff on how to identify and address mental health issues.

School nurses have a responsibility to support the mental health of our students, even when school is out. By staying informed about mental health resources and options for students, they can help to connect them with the care they need. As nurses navigate the challenges of school closures and reopening, let us prioritize mental health services and make sure that our students have the support they need to thrive, both inside and outside of the classroom.

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