How Do School Counselors Advocate for Student Mental Health Services?

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    Counselor Brief

    How Do School Counselors Advocate for Student Mental Health Services?

    School counselors play a pivotal role in ensuring students receive the mental health support they need, often having to navigate complex educational systems to do so. From a counselor's persistent efforts to secure accessible therapy to the integration of peer support systems, we've gathered insights from professionals and additional responses that highlight the multifaceted nature of this advocacy. These accounts, including the push for prioritized mental health education, underscore the dedication and challenges faced by those on the front lines of student well-being.

    • Advocating for Accessible Therapy
    • Seeing Beyond Behavior
    • Navigating Scheduling Conflicts
    • Promoting Holistic Wellness Programs
    • Lobbying for On-Site Professionals
    • Organizing Mental Health Awareness Campaigns
    • Integrating Peer Support Systems
    • Prioritizing Mental Health Education

    Advocating for Accessible Therapy

    I have been a vocal advocate for improving mental health services within our school system. I have actively worked to ensure that students have access to outside therapists and psychiatrists, recognizing the importance of providing them with the necessary support. I also have connected families with services in the community to get further support for when they are discharged. In addition to advocating for these services, I have facilitated the process by helping students schedule appointments during their free periods and providing a safe space where they can feel comfortable addressing their mental health needs.

    Megan SaundersSchool Counselor, Green Chimneys School

    Seeing Beyond Behavior

    Often, mental health support is an unseen need that is shown through undesirable behavior or withdrawal. One student, in particular, was unable to verbalize extreme panic attacks as they occurred, which only resulted in discipline for defiance or not working in class. It was through many conversations with the students and staff involved that we were finally able to find the root cause of the issue and set a plan in motion to ease the anxiety and begin producing work again. In many cases, I find the ability to advocate in the school system is best utilized when I can encourage school staff to look beyond the behavior and at the human. When that occurs, magic happens, and students feel seen, heard, and supported.

    Nichole HoweSchool Counselor, Mountain View School District

    Navigating Scheduling Conflicts

    Something we regularly encounter when a student is seeing a professional counselor outside of the school is an upset teacher or administrator because of the number/frequency of those absences. It is particularly difficult if the student is visiting their counselor on a weekly basis. I regularly have to remind adults that we need to prioritize the student's mental health. And I have to remind them that counselors have schedules too, and they are full. So, while it may be unfortunate that the only availability a counselor has is during a student's English or math class (or any other class), we have to be willing to work with that. Otherwise, we aren't doing a good job of prioritizing that student's mental health. I also regularly have a conversation with the student, the adults involved, and sometimes even the outside counselor about moving the time slot at some point if that is an option at all.

    Josh PierceSchool Counselor, Kearney Catholic High School

    Promoting Holistic Wellness Programs

    School counselors are at the forefront of initiating programs that focus on the overall well-being of students, which includes both their physical and mental health. By integrating holistic wellness programs into the school curriculum, they ensure that students learn the importance of a balanced lifestyle right from the start of their education. These programs often include activities that address stress management, nutrition, emotion regulation, and the importance of physical activity.

    Importantly, these initiatives help in creating an environment where mental health is valued just as much as academic success. If you feel that your school could benefit from such programs, reach out to your local educators to start a conversation about holistic wellness in the curriculum.

    Lobbying for On-Site Professionals

    School counselors know the importance of having immediate access to professional help when a student is dealing with mental health issues. To this end, they lobby for on-site mental health professionals, such as psychologists or therapists, who can provide support directly within the school setting. This direct access to professionals not only helps in timely intervention but also contributes to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health discussions.

    Having these services on-site ensures that no student has to face the difficulty of seeking help alone or outside school. Advocate for the presence of on-site mental health professionals at your next school board meeting to help make this a reality for all students.

    Organizing Mental Health Awareness Campaigns

    Raising awareness is a critical step in advocating for student mental health services, and school counselors often take the lead in this regard. They organize campaigns and workshops to educate students, teachers, and parents about the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and the importance of seeking help. These workshops also provide a safe space for students to talk about their own experiences and learn coping mechanisms.

    Through these initiatives, counselors work to break down the barriers of ignorance and stigma associated with mental health. Participate in or encourage your school to host awareness campaigns and workshops to promote mental health literacy.

    Integrating Peer Support Systems

    Peer support systems within schools offer a unique avenue for promoting student mental health, and school counselors often integrate these systems to enhance the available support network. By training students to offer empathy, understanding, and support to their fellow peers, counselors foster a community of care and compassion. Peer support can help students feel less isolated with their issues and more comfortable seeking help from adults when needed.

    Such systems also promote resilience and self-help among the student body. Encourage the promotion of peer support systems within your school to create a stronger, more empathetic community.

    Prioritizing Mental Health Education

    Understanding mental health is an essential part of education, and school counselors actively push for its inclusion in school policies. They work with educational policymakers to ensure that mental health education is not overlooked but is made an integral part of the learning experience. By equipping students with knowledge about mental health, they are better prepared to face life's challenges and know when and how to seek help.

    This proactive approach can contribute significantly to a healthier, more informed future generation. Urge your local school officials to prioritize mental health education in school policies to benefit all students.