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Mental Health Issues: Students At-Risk

By David Graham Farnsworth

School preventative practices can aid interventions for children with mental health problems. Disrupting negative factors that interfere with children's mental health can alleviate the onset of depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

Evidence-Based Programs

Variations in the level of manifested mental health problems determine interventions required for suffering students. Accommodations,Interventions  modifications, specialized instruction and behavioral planning are all explored in order to ascertain the proper treatment to alleviate symptoms. Evidence-based programs and policies to prevent mental health disorders provide the basis for effective interventions.

Instead of secondary prevention, the concentration remains on primary prevention of mental maladies. Many ideas are generated on potential intervention strategies on how to prevent mental illness for students – how the promotion of mental health can aid in risk factors and protective influence for the reduction of mental health problems. Maintaining the environment in perspective as the common cause of a broad continuum of mental health problems in students – possible stressful events and environmental situations – helps develop interventions offering answers to reduce mental health problems. Self-instruction, positive behavior support and enhancing student socialization go a long way to lessen mental health disturbances.

School practices can help combat student mental health dilemmas. Through a school's design of a safe environment, sense of community, caring, cooperative learning and modeling behavior that promotes positive mental health, the school can enhance student well-being. Reliance must be placed on social skills and emotional intelligence training, along with increased parental involvement.

A curriculum that can improve integrity, self-discipline and work ethic through a family-centered or holistic approaches leads to optimal mental health. Behavior and emotional disorders are reduced significantly through prevention-program betterment. Personalizing instruction in the classroom by offering opportunities for not-so-popular students – like assistants and tutors – heightens student status.

Determination and remedying skills-deficiencies early helps reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors associated with mental health problems. This sort of preventative intervention promotes emotional resilience, positive thinking, stress-management skills, self-esteem, social skills and problem solving skills. Strong evidence exists about risk and protective factors and their connection to mental health problems.

Reinforce Protective Factors

The idea remains to interfere with processes that contribute to a student's issues with mental health with interventions that reinforce protective factors and counteract risk factors. There are a number of generic protective factors and risk factors common to a plethora of student mental health problems that can be addressed first in a preventative intervention. Anxiety, depression and substance abuse often have roots in child abuse and poverty. If poverty and child abuse can be addressed positively through interventions, then these types of mental illnesses will be lessened. An intervention to stop negative thinking in students can help end depression.

Additionally, one must examine the link between a student's physical health and mental health. For example, a problem like poor living conditions (housing) is a risk factor that can wind-up causing ill physical and mental health. Hence, a successful mental health intervention must focus on the economic factors precipitating the disorder. The lack of security, shelter and food weighs heavily upon sound mental health.

Evidence emphasizes the positive role nutrition plays in optimal mental health. Nutritional interventions that provide food supplements in conjunction with counseling have been proven to be effective according to research. Socioeconomic and environmental effects on a student's mental health cannot be overlooked in order to ascertain an appropriate intervention. To improve the quality of life for a mentally challenged student, examine socioeconomic and environmental factors to determine a proper intervention – like social support of family and friends, community networks, stress management, exercise, empowerment, problem solving skills, social and conflict management skills, positive interpersonal interactions and social participation.

Socialization in School Setting

Fortunately, the school setting, which offers an opportunity for socialization, is a convenient place to conduct preventative interventions and mental health promotion. School-based curriculums have a powerful influence over a student's positive well-being – and can alleviate mental health risk factors by social-emotional education.

Whether the intervention's focus is the entire school or merely part of it (a certain grade level or specific at-risk students), the opportunity exists to target a broad array of generic risk and protective factors. These interventions for students with mental health problems promote academic success, social competence and problem solving skills. Skill-building programs that can greatly improve cognitive problem solving skills, coping with stress (due to middle-school transition), emotion knowledge, reductions of internalizing and externalizing problems and reducing impulsiveness and inhibition include – I Can Problem Solve, Improving Social Awareness– Social Problem-Solving (ISA-SPS) Programme and Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS) Programme. These types of programs build skills that enhance the thought process of students – acting as an important component that addresses preventive ill mental health care.

For prevention, ascertain which mental health problems disrupt a student's academic success the most, and pick an intervention according to priority. When choosing which intervention might be the most successful for a student with mental health problems, consider if the intervention might single out the student. If so, then try intervening with a class or group to avoid the student's perception as being different.

Let the student realize how helpful the intervention can be – especially if he or she is not willing to participate. If the intervention cannot be consistent over time, it is better to apply another one that is more realistic. It is important to remember that interventions are applied in categories of accommodations, modifications, specialized instruction and behavioral planning – in a range of approaches from simple classroom changes to more complex changes by a specialist. So, the regular education teacher may offer simple interventions for children with mental health problems to help them accomplish curricular needs, whereas, a specialist might present more specialized instruction for more severe mental health problems.