Mental Health

Why Student Mental Health Matters

Unmet mental health needs rank among the most pressing concerns for California educators, directly affecting student attendance, behavior and readiness to learn.1

Students with unmet mental health needs have worse educational outcomes than students who are receiving appropriate treatment and support. In the classroom, teachers report “disruptive behavior [by students with mental health disorders] and their lack of information and training in mental health issues as major barriers to instruction.”2

How Schools Can Address Behavioral Health Needs

Schools are uniquely situated to play an important, perhaps leading, role in the prevention and treatment of mental health disorders.  Many students receive mental health services at their school: seventy percent of children receiving services get them at school. 3, 4

The school environment is often a place of protection and security for students struggling with mental health disorders.

Tips for Effective School-Based Mental Health Services

To have the greatest positive impact, school-based mental health services should be fully integrated into the everyday functioning of the school by following these best practices:

  1. Mental health services build from and complement a positive school climate.
  2. Mental health services are available to all students, especially prevention and early intervention services.
  3. Mental health providers work with school staff in teams, such as the Coordination of Services Team.
  4. Mental health providers serve as a resource to teachers and other school staff.
  5. School districts partner with county and community agencies to provide mental health services.
  6. Mental Health Services are organized into a three tier system: Universal, Targeted, and Intensive.

Getting Started

Districts interested in expanding or enhancing mental health services for students should ask themselves these key questions:

  • What are the needs of our students, based upon data from sources such as California Healthy Kids Survey, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, suspension/expulsion data, and special education data?
  • How are students involved in assessing, planning, and implementing mental health services?
  • What mental health resources do we now have on campus? Do we have school-site mental health staff?
  • How are current services coordinated? Are they effective?
  • How are services meeting the unique cultural needs of our students?
  • What do our teachers and school staff need to know to support student mental health?
  • Who are our existing mental health partners? Who are potential partners?
  • To what degree is the county health department invested in schools?
  • Who are the principal players and leaders? Who needs to be involved in designing systems and implementing services to ensure all student needs are met?
  • How do we measure success?
  • How are we going to pay for and sustain services?

Resources for Practice

For strategies to partner with counties and fund mental health services, see our toolkit Connecting Students to Mental Health Services: Creative Collaborations, Funding, and Evidence-Based Practices.

For tools that will help you start and run school mental health programs, see Mental Health Resources.

(1) Barrett, Susan, Eber, Lucille, Weist, Mark, Advancing Education Effectiveness: Interconnecting School Mental Health and School-wide Positive Behavior Support, Center for School Mental Health, 2013, v.
(2) Kataoka, S.H., Rowan, B., & Hoagwood, K.E. (2009). Bridging the Divide: In Search of Common Ground in Mental Health and Education Research and Policy. Psychiatric Services. 60(11): 1510-1515.
(3) California School Health Centers Association, Integrated Trauma-Informed Mental Health Care to Support Boys and Young Men of Color: Recommendations for School-Based Health Centers, October 2013.
(4) Hurwitz, Laura and Weston, Karen, Using Coordinated School Health to Promote Mental Health for All Students, National Assembly on School-Based Care, July 2010.