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The Jed Foundation Seeks to Undo the Lack of Attention to Student Mental Wellness

This is the current state of our youth’s mental health crisis in the United States:

On average, it takes 14 years for teens and young adults to access mental health resources from the time of diagnosis, said Tony Walker, senior vice president of academic programs at the Jed Foundation.

Participants at “Issues From the Field: Implementing an Evidence-Based Framework to Support Student Mental Health” on Saturday at the AASA national conference expressed surprise at this statistic, pushing Walker to clarify what he had said.

While the prognosis he shared was bleak, Walker was able to put attendees at ease and explore how the Jed Foundation’s work is providing equitable access to mental health resources in schools to combat the crisis.

In conjunction with AASA, the foundation developed its District Comprehensive Approach to promote mental health support and create sustainable change in schools and districts. Its work outlines how schools might protect emotional health, prevent suicide and other harmful behaviors, and provide equitable community support.

“Why is this hard” for districts to implement, asked Paul Imhoff, an AASA past president and director of government relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

He posed this question, prompting participants to consider the key barriers that school communities face in providing comprehensive mental health support.

He continued this line of inquiry by wondering how “we use data to drive our decision making?” Imhoff outlined how many districts he has interacted with cite the same challenges such as political climate, lack of resources or an incompatible school climate or culture.

However, when districts and school communities can overcome these barriers, they may reap the benefits that AASA and the Jed Foundation know will result from implementing a comprehensive mental health framework.

Walker cited an increase in academic achievement. “Standardized test scores went up 11 percent,” he said.” He also mentioned increased attendance rates, fewer instances of exclusionary discipline and decreased rates of suicide. “It saved lives,” he said.

AASA and JED wanted to leave educators with the idea that a comprehensive mental health framework should be used as an extension of what districts already provide students. Serving the whole child involves an examination of current supports and a clear framework to drive the future of mental health services in schools, Imhoff said.

(Bradley Beggs is a reporter for Conference Daily Online and a master’s student at the University of California at San Diego.)

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