Currently, one in five children ages 13-18 are living with a mental health condition (Walker, 2018). Although the majority of students with a mental health disorder respond positively to qualified healthcare, 70% do not receive adequate treatment (Walker, 2018). Contributing to the lack of support provided for children struggling with mental health problems is a severe shortage of qualified school counselors and psychologists. However, even as efforts are made to improve counselor to student ratios, it is becoming more apparent that increasing staffing is not enough to address the growing mental health crises.
At ideal counselor to student ratios, services provided are typically still responsive and brief in nature—available when mental health has reached a critical point but offering little to no support for the child once the crisis of the moment has passed. Currently, the majority of school programs operate without a model that provides broader prevention efforts or establishes a continuum of care that matches the true range of students’ mental health needs. Instead, where counseling is available, the approach is primarily that of crisis management rather than early detection and scalable intervention.
Recognizing Early Warning Signs:
All too often, early signs of declining mental health are missed and help is delayed until the situation has become one of crisis management. Although early signs that a student’s emotional, psychological, or social well-being is suffering can be subtle, providing prompt targeted interventions is instrumental in maximizing the efficacy of treatment, as well as in preventing more serious problems from developing. Rather than focusing overall efforts primarily on crisis management, greater emphasis should be placed on the importance of early identification, prevention, and regular supportive care.
According to The Youth Mental Health Project, common signs that it’s time to seek treatment include the following:
- Difficulty socializing with others
- Intense difficulty with separation from caregivers
- Inability to toilet train after the age of three
- Excessive, inconsolable crying or sadness
- Explosive and persistent tantrums
- Refraining from extracurricular activities due to disinterest or extreme anxiety
- Difficulty making and keeping friends
- Recurrent inexplicable ailments such as headaches or stomachs
- School avoidance
- Low tolerance for discomfort and/or frustration
- Frequent irritability
- Difficulty with socializing
- Concrete thinking, hyper-focus
- School avoidance
- Self-harming or aggressive behaviors
- Violent mood swings
- Extremes in eating or sleeping
- Extreme lack of personal care or hygiene
Providing Scalable Interventions
Another critical aspect of supporting mental health is providing the appropriate scale of care. Like much of healthcare, mental health is a continuum that requires layers of service. Just as utilizing an emergency department over your primary care physician when a complaint requires immediate and urgent attention is critically essential, accessing the appropriate scale of mental health treatment is a vital aspect of receiving the best care.
For example, while a student managing the day-to-day struggles of anxiety may benefit tremendously from the consistency and anonymity of a mental health coaching app, emergencies such as threats of self-harm require the immediate attention of a professional. That’s why at Mindboost, users needing care beyond what the app can provide are able to immediately tap into a network of licensed counselors nationwide via telehealth.
What Mindboost Has to Offer
Matching the full range of students’ mental health needs is a complicated problem, and one that undoubtedly benefits from the utilization of multiple resources to directly improve school climate and foster better long-term mental health practices. Fortunately, there is a resource that provides tailored counseling support across varying severities of mental health issues. At Mindboost, students can receive access to integrative support through conversational self-help interventions via a support chatbot named Mindy. Powered by AI, Mindy can hold 3 million unique conversations, making it possible for every student and staff member to receive 24/7 access to counseling support with quick answers to mental health questions. Offering over 800 interventions, Mindy can also help students develop coping strategies, provide education on best mental health practices, and recommend breathing exercises proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. By providing a first layer of care, Mindboost makes support available to all who need it, offering scalable interventions that directly connect individuals with a clinician when the situation calls for it. Through expanding accessibility and providing early and integrative care, Mindboost is the first step in providing every child with the mental health care they need.
The Youth Mental Health Project. (n.d.). Understanding and Supporting Youth Mental Health. Retrieved from The Youth Mental Health Project: https://ymhproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/YMHP-fact-sheet_mental-health-continuum.pdf
Walker, T. (2018, September 13). Are Schools Ready to Tackle the Mental Health Crisis? Retrieved from NEA News: https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/are-schools-ready-tackle-mental-health-crisis