Making Schools Mental Health Friendly
Today, our latest product—Mental Health & Gen Z: What Educators Need to Know is available for the public. This project, and our Springtide Series on Mental Health in general, have been long in the works. We’ve spent more than a year thinking, planning, writing, and conversing about mental health, and how to make organizations and institutions mental-health friendly at their very core. For me, this topic is personal.
In the past decade, many teachers (myself included) have been trained to spot the warning signs of mental-health crises in our students, direct them toward resources, and check in on them regularly—all while doing the thousands of other things that constitute our jobs.
And sometimes it works. Sometimes we catch students just in time. Just before they fall. We can’t focus too long on the vivid alternative, but instead sigh with relief that some tragedy did not unfold, at least not today.
But sometimes it doesn’t work. We don’t see. We’re too busy or too untrained or the situation is simply beyond our capacity to see and respond to.
I’ve been on both sides. I’ve worked with students who have told me later that my plea that they get help, and my assistance connecting them to that help, saved their life. And I’ve lost students to suicide just months before graduation.
In both cases, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “This isn’t what I was trained to do.”
But like you, I couldn’t just sit and watch an epidemic unfold in my classroom and on my campus, day in and day out, without trying to do something. Even if that something never felt like enough.
The research we’re doing about mental health is, in many ways, a passion project for me. For years, I’ve longed for a way to begin building an organizational culture at a school or university that is designed, at its very core, to be mental-health friendly, rather than amended, as an afterthought, to respond to mental-health crises.
This educator’s report is the tool that I wish my campus had when I was a professor. It is intended to sit alongside crisis intervention and early indicator training and hopefully prevent reliance on crisis response tools. We believe, and our data confirm, that more prepared cultures can address mental-health issues before they become mental-health crises.
In fall 2021, our Research Advisory Board convened with our staff to talk about the direction this focus on mental health would take us in 2022. Before we began discussing the logistics and themes, each member offered the first name of a young person in their life who has been impacted by this epidemic. We paused together in a moment of silence to hold those young people, and those unnamed, in our hearts, in our thoughts, or in our prayers, each practicing a reverence suited to our own systems of beliefs, but a reverence nonetheless shared and expressed as a common concern for these young people and a wish for their well-being.
This report, and this series, is for them.