Education Chat

Student Mental Health: The School's Role

Our guests discussed the role of schools in monitoring and improving the mental health of troubled students.

April 25, 2007

Student Mental Health: The School’s Role

Stacy Skalski, director of public policy, National Association of School Psychologists; and
John Kelly, school psychologist, Commack High School in Commack, N.Y.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat to discuss the role of schools in monitoring and improving the mental health of students. We have a large volume of very good, thoughtful questions. So let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Deborah Perkins-Gough, Senior Editor, Educational Leadership:
Is there any research showing that screening and early intervention works to help adolescents with mental health issues and emotional problems? If so, what kinds of school-based interventions are most effective?

Stacy Skalski:
YES. There is a variety of research examining the benefits of mental health screening in students and youth. Screening programs need to involve the student, his/her parents, and a variety of school personnel who can provide input regarding the overall functioning of a student. Further, screenings that occur as part of a comprehensive school mental health program that addresses prevention and intervention services, are generally believed to be the most successful. Research suggests that the earlier we are able to identify mental health concerns in youth and respond appropriately, the more positive the outcomes. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health supported this finding and recommended that schools engage in screening for mental health issues.

There are numerous school-based interventions that have proven effectiveness. SAMHSA has a great online listing of evidenced based intervention model programs for children and adolescents that can be used in schools. Perhaps the most promising currently is Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Research on PBIS shows that when schools engage in system wide efforts to provide positive behavior supports, students are more engaged and successful in school.

Question from Judith Kullas Shine, President, School Social Work Association of America:
Many schools and districts have school employed mental health professionals (school social workers, school psychologists, and/or school counselors). How can these school personnel help teachers and administrators to be alert to signs of emotional distress in students prior to such tragedies occurring?

John Kelly:
This is an excellent question. The mental health professionals in the schools have the training and experience in working with emotional issues. I am a big advocate of these professionals engaging in preventative work. This includes conducting in-services with faculty and staff members on common signs and symptoms of emotional problems, as well as the “warning signs” of more serious emotional issues. I often stress the importance of paying attention to these warning signs and how seek appropriate help. In addition, these mental health professional can serve as consultants to individual teachers regarding a specific student. It is important to develop collaborative plans with teachers on how to support these students, as well as appropriate resources for the teacher.

Comment from Alina Moran Second Grade Teacher at TPA, Humacao, PR:
I strongly believe that children’s emotional needs and behaviors should be addressed much more thoroughly and seriously, beginning in the elementary grades. It is in elementary grades where children should begin to learn how to manage stressful situations which will allow them to make better choices in their lives.

Question from Breck Jacobs, Teacher, Lemoore High School:
Should we be asking how we can help troubled parents or guardians at our schools, since they play a bigger role in determining the mental health of a student or whether or not the student receives treatment for an illness?

John Kelly:
It is always important to involve parents in the process. Many times, they may not know how to access support for their child. Therefore, the school can assist parents in negotiating the connection with community resources. In addition, as your question alludes to, sometimes the parents need support and intervention. Parenting programs, skills development, and connection with community resources for parents is often just as important as direct services to children. A stable home environment is one of the “protective” factors that help children to be resilient during difficult times.

Question from Krystal Davis, Teacher, Hastings 9th Grade Center:
How do we convince teachers, administrators, districts and state legislatures that providing mental health services during the school day (when we can assure that the student is receiving them) is important enough to justify taking students out of class? Many would say that our mandate is for education and that providing services for students during the school day stands in the way of fulfilling that mandate.

Stacy Skalski:
We need to partner with teachers to discuss and understand completely the student’s needs and the priorities for intervention: academic, social-emotional, behavioral, etc. We need to openly discuss how these needs overlap and relate to one another and when appropriate, stress how responding to the emotional and behavioral needs are a priority in order for the student to access instruction. We need, with teachers, to set these priorities for intervening with students. When our work with students makes their work easier and more successful, they are more willing to collaborate with us around our schedules and conflicts. The more we understand their pressures and constraints and we explain ours--all within the context of the student’s needs, the better for all involved. So...the most important way to accomplish this: Close collaboration and strategic teamwork.

Question from Diane Kerchner, Educational Consultant:
When a child has a mental health diagnosis but is not qualified for special education, does the district have any responsibility for monitoring the emotional well being thus safety in the educational environment?

John Kelly:
Unfortunately, this depends on how much the district is aware of in terms of the mental health diagnosis and to what degree the emotional issues are impacting upon the student’s ability to function in school. Many times, parents choose not to share this information with the school out of fear that their child will be “stigmatized” or for confidentiality reasons. Therefore, it makes the situation hard to monitor. However, assuming that the school is aware of the diagnosis, then there is a level of responsibility that is placed upon the district. While the student may not currently qualify for special education services, the emotional issues may be significant enough to warrant other support services (e.g. educationally related support services). In addition, the school needs to monitor the student for a deterioration in functioning, which may lead to qualification for special education services.

Question from Linda Gordon, Assis. Prof. Educ., Mo. Valley College:
What seems to work with troubled youth, to bring them out of a violent or “revenge” mindset?

John Kelly:
Early intervention is the key to success. This not only refers to early intervention with the student, but also intervening in a situation or condition (e.g. teasing and bullying, family dysfunction or violence) that tends to generate intense feelings of anger and aggression. We need to recognize the warning signs that a student is displaying and respond to their needs. We need to have policies and procedures in place to address the situations that may lead to violence.

In addition, there are many “protective factors” that can be developed within a child’s environment that will help them to be resilient. Some of these are a stable home environment, a connection with a caring, supportive adult, connection with school-based activities, and setting and accomplishing goals.

Direct interventions that have proven to be effective are peer mediation strategies and the concept of “restorative justice.” These strategies seek a resolution of the problem or conflict without violent outcomes.

Question from Carrie Howell, Assistant-Principal, Henry Co. High School, Paris, TN:
What is the best plan of action of a lock-down occurs during a block change or during lunch when students are in unsecured locations such as the hallway, cafeteria, etc. and even if a school is in a class period where should students caught out in the halls go if all doors are locked and are to remain locked?

John Kelly:
An important part of “lock down” procedure is the awareness by staff and students of what to do when a “lock down” signal is given. If students are passing in hallways during class changes or in unsecured locations, staff members should be instructed to move all students to a secure location as quickly as possible. This means pulling kids into classrooms or other locations. If students or staff are outside of the building, specific locations should be designated as “safe places” to meet. Staff needs to account for who they have with them and keep track of all names for immediate and future reference. This demonstrates the importance of “drills” to help familiarize everyone with the safe locations and proper procedures.

Question from Karen Bagell, editor, LRP Publications:
What key step would have made a difference at Virginia Tech? (For example, Cho had been evaluated and declared a danger due to his mental illness. What further practical action(s) can K-12 schools take based on these evaluations?)

Stacy Skalski:
It’s hard to know for sure as I don’t have knowledge about the specifics of the VA Tech shootings and don’t know what was done or what was attempted. That being situations where a student is potentially a danger to him/herself or others the most important thing that schools can do is to never give up on reaching the kid or getting him/her help. We demonstrate how we care for others by our ability and resolve to help them without being deterred when we encounter obstacles and challenges along the way. In public schools we need to unleash and wrap around all possible resources for struggling students (screenings, assessments, interventions, behavioral supports, law enforcement, community mental health agencies, alternative education options for youth, etc.). Schools need to prepare for crises as if they are a daily certainty. We prepare by knowing in advance of a crisis what the the full continuum of supports (school, community, mental health, social services, juvenile justice, etc.) is and how to access it. We need to have vivid imaginations for the terrible and tragic possibilities and try and prepare despite our natural need to believe that “that could never happen.” We must also prepare and inform all members of our community (school employees, community partners, parents, and students) on how to identify student needs and how to help a student who is struggling. We must never think that the problem or concerns have just “gone away” or somehow disappeared. We must be committed to making a difference and doing it in a culturally responsive, caring way.

Question from Lia Gyore, Sub teacher, PTA President, SSC member, Gladstone Elementary:
Funding for school counselors is almost non-existent. We have a counselor for one day a week that came in mid-year and will not be back next year due to funding. Do you think this is where we are losing the battle?

John Kelly:
It is unfortunate that mental health services or even social and emotional learning concepts are viewed as “secondary” or “ancillary” services and not on the same level as academic subject areas. Until we realize that these are all educational services and view the “whole child”, funding problems will continue to exist.

However, there is good news! New and revised federal laws (e.g. NCLB, IDEA 2004) require districts to address the mental health needs of students. In addition, more research is demonstrating the connection between a child’s social and emotional adjustment and their level of academic achievement (see and for resources). Many districts are implementing and infusing social and emotional learning into their curriculum.

So funding battles may continue to exist, but the “tide is turning” on recognizing the importance of these services.

Question from Tracy Schulz, Parent, Special Ed Advocate, also work at a local 2 yr college:
We all want the children to fit into little neat packages and not cause any problems. How do we encourage the children’s individual differences, educate them, and a give them a sense of self-worth when they do learn uniquely? Should schools be centered on learning styles and likes rather than everyone going to their neighborhood school?

John Kelly:
Wow! There is a lot in your question.

First, we must recognize that all children can learn, some just learn differently than others. There is no “one size fits all” model. Helping teachers understand and develop methods to teach to different learning styles is a key component of effective and responsive education. This concept is best captured in the “differentiated instruction” model. This method of teaching requires the presentation of material in various formats to address different learning modalities. The basic philosophy is that teachers adapt to the students, rather than the students adapting themselves to a curriculum. This has nothing to do with special education; it is just good teaching philosophy for all students.

Second, all students have strengths and weaknesses. Course options and curriculum needs to be varied enough to allow students to “shine” in some area. As Robert Brooks says, “we all have Islands of Competence” that can be developed to help build upon a student’s strengths.

Question from myrta cardona ,social worker,Hope Academy , discipline center,La Joya ISD:
What needs to happen for schools and community services to share vital information necessary to help our students.

Stacy Skalski:
We need to all be better partners with one another and much less territorial. There is plenty of work for all of us. Schools and communities need to build partnerships that are responsive to the special expertise that both school-employed and community-employed mental health providers have. We need to clearly understand each other’s training, skills, roles, and needs and work to build relationships that are respectful and collaborative. Comprehensive, thoughtful interagency agreements that reflect more than just the typical facility and financial information, and also include guidance regarding the roles, responsibilities, functions, methods for communication, and how our work shares a common mission, purpose, and accountability for positive student outcomes are essential.

Question from Janet Purser, Head Start Director, Cabarrus County Schools, Concord, NC:
We have a tremendous need for mental health professionals that can work with very young children. The number of very young children entering preschool with extreme anger, neglect, attachment disorders is increasing. What resources are available to fund psychologists, therapists, etc.?

Stacy Skalski:
There are a variety of federal grant programs that support the funding of personnel and services to provide school mental health services. The US Department of Education funds specific grant programs like the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program and the Safe Schools, Healthy Students Intiative (Safe and Drug Free Schools program). Additionally, there are many private foundations that offer support grant support for schools like the Robert Woods Foundation. Schools also have the capacity to use IDEA and ESEA/NCLB funds to add school mental health resources and personnel. The amount of funding available for mental health services and personnel in schools is directly correlated with whether reconizing and responding to the mental health needs of students is an established priority.

Question from Fiora Starchild-Wolf, Enrollment Services Advisor, Lane Community College:
How do FERPA and counseling confidentiality codes interplay to prevent adequate information exchange between faculty, staff, and counseling professionals on campus or off-campus? What can we do to begin opening these lines of communication?

Stacy Skalski:
FERPA allows the educational records of a student to transfer to/from the educational agencies and to/from those with a legitimate educational interest. The key for schools is to look for, review, know and understand the records that are available. Too often records transfer and sit in a file cabinet never to be consulted or reviewed. Also, the degree in which assurances of “confidentiality” can/can not be afforded to K-12 students depends on school board policy and state law. Additionally, when a student is considered a threat to themselves or others, confidentiality is generally waived.

Question from Lynn Boddy, teacher, public school, Phoenix:
Do you think children from inner-city schools who have learning difficulties at school and have symptoms such as not being able to focus, can’t read chapter books, can’t stay in seat, impulsive, blurt out without thinking, etc. are at risk to have problems later on that affects their self-esteem? What does the teacher do if she is told she cannot have them tested due to overidentifiying even if she/he has documentation, etc.?

John Kelly:
I believe that any student who displays the range of issues that you describe are at-risk for emotional and behavioral issues. A student who experiences problems in the classroom will quickly learn that they are “different” in some manner, which will impact their self-esteem.

The good news is that there is a recent movement to provide interventions to students early in the process and not wait for them to fail before we take some action. Therefore, “identification testing” does not have to take place before intervention occurs. We need to implement quality, researched based interventions on a broad school-wide or class-room wide level to address many common learning issues. Targeted groups of children can be given additional interventions if they do not respond to the broader supports. Finally, assessment may occur if students are not responding to any of these interventions. However, the key is in monitoring the student’s response to interventions along the way and modifying or adjusting things based upon the information you are collecting.

We need to recognize that special education is important for many students. However, many more students respond very well when given appropriate supports early in the cycle. So, for that student who is impulsive, can’t read, and having trouble in your class, let’s intervene now and not wait till later.

Question from Sharon Mousseau, Supt. Oneida Nation School System:
The question I do have is. What role do schools have when we have identified and referred students for mental health support, and the family does not follow through or support the school’s recommendations? What is the next option next to child protection referrals? Can schools mandate or create policy for students to get the help they need in order to keep other students safe and the student at risk safe? Thank you

Stacy Skalski:
Parental involvement and follow through is critical with any student. Schools need to build relationships with parents that are positive, non-adversarial and empathetic to the stressors, challenges, and obstacles that parents face. When parents believe that schools are committed to the well being of their child, they are generally open, cooperative and appreciative of all efforts. Unfortunately, schools often wait until a problem happens before contacting and involving parents in educational planning and decision making. We need to reach out to parents early on and build trusting relationships that demonstrate our shared commitment to the student’s success and willingness to “go the extra mile”. Additionally, we need to provide all services and supports in a culturally sensitive and responsive way. Building a culture that values the input and participation of parents is the best avenue for ensuring parental involvement and follow-through when needed. We also need to be respectful to the fact that there are often many ways to access appropriate interventions for students--not just one way. When parents resist following through in a situation, we need to back up and find out what they are willing to do and build a relationship and commitment to see this through with them.

Question from John Lestino c/o Edgewater Park Schools, NJ, District School Psychologist:
Can the speakers define for the listners what they consider as ‘good’ mental-health practises in schools? What are some examples? How can parents learn about these practises and their impact on thier children?

John Kelly:
Good mental health is important for everyone. Mental health is as important as physical health to our quality of life. Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness, but also means having the skills necessary to cope with life’s challenges. If ignored, mental health problems can interfere with children’s learning, development, relationships, and physical health.

According to the NASP model:

Mental health services for children and youth must be accessible. Schools are ideal settings to provide mental health services to children and youth.

School psychologists, social workers, and counselors provide mental health services that address needs at home and school to help students succeed academically, emotionally, and socially.

Examples include:

Help families and schools deal with crisis and loss

Work directly with children and families to address barriers to academic and social success

Help students develop skills to solve conflicts and problems independently

Teach students social skills, self-management, and coping strategies

Consult with teachers on classroom interventions

Work with parents and educators to create positive school environments

Increase awareness of mental health stressors and strategies

Teach parents and educators skills to address behavior problems

Screen for mental health and learning problems

Develop suicide awareness and prevention programs

Develop school-wide programs to prevent bullying and aggression

Foster tolerance and understanding of diversity

Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student, Penn:
How can a school leader be zealous about student mental health with out being paranoid that this could happen at “your school?”

John Kelly:
Well, the first thing that we have to realize is whether you want to admit it or not, students in your schools are having emotional problems. Statistics tell us that approximately 25% of children are diagnosed with some type of mental health issue. However, approximately 75% of these children are not receiving treatment for these problems. For those that are receiving treatment, the majority of time it is occurring in the school setting. The best course of action is to establish good preventative services that can provide for early detection/early intervention, programs and interventions that can help students who begin to develop adjustment problems, and finally targeted interventions for specific students who display significant issues.

Just because we talk about something does not mean it is going to happen. It just means that we are talking about, raising awareness, and trying to help those in need.

Question from George Wootton, MS, Family Nurse Practitioner, Center for Persons With Disabilities, Utah State University:
Do you have suggestions on ways for schools and mental health providers who are working with the schools students on either counseling and pharmacologic issues can work better together?

John Kelly:
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! The linkage between outside professionals and those professionals working in the schools is vital. School personnel have more contact with children than parents do; unfortunate, but true. Therapeutic issues related to the child’s adjustment, including medication titration, are sometimes best addressed by school personnel. However, the parents play an important role in this process. An identified professional within the school can be the primary liaison between teachers, parents, and other professionals. This designation of a “point person” is important to facilitate the communication. Engendering a team approach, which includes all involved parties, has been demonstrated to be effective. Having frequent meetings or communicating via e-mail, log books, etc. are good methods to keep the flow of communication going.

Question from S. Wallin, Teacher, Snowshoe Elem.:
How can I help sad, depressed children with troubled home lives be optimistic,positive children at school? They have a real hard time leaving behind what they cannot control at home and even attempting to be happy successful students in our classroom environment.

John Kelly:
An encouraging movement in helping people who face adversity in their life is encompassed by the “positive psychology” philosophy. Positive psychology is the study of how human beings prosper in the face of adversity. It focuses on identifying and enhancing the human strengths and virtues that make life worth living. Dr. Martin Seligman, at the University of Penn., has some execellent resources to help individuals develop these strengths and characteristics.

In addition, helping children to develop resiliency in their lives is important. Building positive connections to adults (e.g. teachers, coaches) at school, involvement in school activities, developing a sense of empowerment are all protective factors to help kids cope with difficult home lives.

Question from Michelle Weiner, mentor teacher-elementary, MA candidate @CSUN:
What is the best way to shift school culture away from the emphasis for students on “being quiet” and compliant, toward a culture of openess, that allows time for teachers to really know their students and with that knowledge, be able to support the student as emotional issues become apparent?

John Kelly:
Great question!

We are taught in our training to maintain a level of distance from the students that we work with or teach. In general, this is a healthy practice. However, this school year I have had the opportunity to participate in and observe programs that are designed to break down some of the “barriers” that exist in schools, including the student-teacher relationship. I have experienced and witnessed the benefits of this openness that can be created within a professional relationship. Therefore, we can maintain appropriate boundaries with students, while sharing a warm, meaningful relationship.

This may not be for everyone. Some people find comfort in clear boundaries. That is alright. However, those that can be responsive on a deeper level may be able to become aware of issues at an earlier point in time.

One of the programs that I participated in this year was “Challenge Day.” This represents a dynamic and effective program in breaking down barriers.

Question from Kate Usaj, Legislative Director, Ohio School Social Worker Association:
NCLB 20 USC 2171.Sec 4151 recognizes `school based mental health providers’ as school psychologists, school social workers and school counselors. Can you speak of your experience with districts that have fully staffed pupil services teams who build a network of support and relationships with students vs. those schools who have no pupil services staff as a foundation of their mental health support team and rely only on contracted mental health agencies for services.

Stacy Skalski:
School psychologists, social workers and counselors who are trained for work in schools begin their work aligned with the purpose and mission of schools: education. The lense that these professionals look through in all of their work is linked to how a student is able to access instruction, overcome barriers to learning, and demonstrate positive student outcomes. It is not enough for these professionals for a student to simply “get along” with others or be able to behave in school and the community, they must also be learning and demonstrating that learning within the expectations of the school. This makes these professionals unique and an essential and valuable professionals in schools. In my experience, school mental health professionals like school psychologists, social workers, and counselors who are specifically trained for work in schools are the best professionals on the front lines with students. When adequately staffed, they design comprehensive services that link the school to additional community resources so that a full continuum of services and supports are available to students. They focus on prevention and intervention services and seek to evaluate their effectiveness based upon the student outcomes in which the school is held accountable. Additionally, these professionals have full knowledge of school law, child development, school systems, curriculum and learning. This information is critical when interacting with teachers and principals who are faced with the daily stress meeting educational mandates and ensuring positive student outcomes. School mental health programs that adequately staff their programs with school psychologists, social workers, and counselors, also tend to focus on how their services and supports are not able to fulfill the needs of some of the more intense children or children who really need a more comprehensive family approach to services. School-employed mental health professionals working in these settings will also often work to identify how community agencies and supports can also become available to children and families and they will actively link these together. Through these active collaborations, a comprehensive program of systems and supports can be established that is available to all students.

Question from Liz Calafiore, retired middle school English teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District:
While identification of students with mental illness can and should be improved, isn’t that only half the problem? Isn’t there more the school, parents, and community do to prevent our children from bullying and creating children who may have been inclined in some way toward mental illness and can do horrible things in their pain, anger, and rage? In my classroom, once I identified a “bullied” student, I would place them in the front of the room, nearest where I would tend to be to prevent incidents. I would inform counselors and recommend an IMPACT study be done for the child, but I never got feedback or was ever informed about what happened when the child got to high school. I was seriously worried about on Asian boy who was very small for his age and full of anger. I wrote something for his file for the high school counselor but never found out how he did there.

John Kelly:
Yes, there is more that we should and could be doing. Your example illustrates the importance of teachers being aware of early warning signs of issues that sometimes result in violent outcomes. I commend your desire to intervene early and communicate your concerns. These are some of the important components of effective intervention. However, your examples further illustrates some of the “cracks” in the system in regards to communication and follow through.

We need to strive toward a “seamless system of care” where there is a continuum of services that are available to students in need. This continuum needs to include school-based services to community-based services to hospital-based services. Communication within schools, as well as between schools and outside agencies is important. Follow-up and aftercare to insure proper treatment is vital. Too many people receive treatment or intervention in one setting, but are never followed after leaving or being discharged to another setting.

Finally, there is more that we should be doing to create environments that do not tolerate behaviors by others that lead to damaged self-image and self-worth. Structuring classrooms and other learning environments that empower the “silent majority” to intervene or speak out against students who are targeting others for victimization. Programs like “A Caring School Community” (, or Responsive Classrooms ( are examples of ways that schools can create these environments. You can also go to the CASEL website ( for excellent resources on programs.

Question from Marcelino Colon, Director Cousenlng Center at Huertas Junior College, Caguas, Puerto Rico:
What are the school systems doing to promote multicultural awareness (socialization process of diverse students) among student body?

John Kelly:
Multicultural awareness is vital when responding to children’s mental health needs. The school’s or professional’s awareness level will often determine the effectiveness of the intervention. Therefore, knowledge of cultural, religious, and social norms of the children is imperative.

While it is difficult to comment on all areas of the U.S., there is a general trend in the schools towards teaching levels of acceptance, not just tolerance, of diversity in our society. We still have a long way to go!

Question from Esther Marron, Psychologist, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles:
Should all schools consider implementing a nation wide curriculum on social and emotional learning, which is currently used in IL and several other states? This seems to provide a strong emotional/social component and foundation for children and thus prevent or monitor any potential psychopathology for them in the future.

Stacy Skalski:
I believe that it is in the best interests of students, families, schools, and communities for students to receive direct instruction in social-emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal communication skills. Students who demonstrate success in these areas tend to be more successful in school and in life. I believe that we must treat social emotional learning as we do academic skill acquisition: kids don’t come into the world knowing how to read, write or do math anymore than then know how to communicate, behave or positively respond to others. If we want children to demonstrate a set of skills we must take the time to teach them these skills at home and at school and make it a priority to evaluate how they are doing and how they can improve. This is true for academics and the way we communicate and relate to others.

Question from stephen sellers:
At what point do you fear for a students mental health. I have a student who is introverted, rarely talks, has few friends and looks depressed always. when I see him outside of school (supermarket) he is always with his younger brother and appears to be smiling, playing around and happy.

John Kelly:
Students certainly may act differently in school than they do outside of school. However, when we are concerned for a student, don’t be afraid to reach out to the student and ask “how are you doing?” Speak to other teachers or staff members who may know this student to see what they observe. Involve the parents or other adults who may be able to give you some insight. Finally, seek assistance from one of the mental health staff members who may be able observe him and give you feedback. I commend you for your concern for this young man. The worst thing we can do is just ignore it.

Question from Stephen Moe, school counselor. Houck Middle School:
The US Department of Education has recently ruled that schools must allow parents to inspect upon request actual notes, test results, observations,email,etc. pertaining to their son or daughter. Do you think this will inhibit students from divulging important info. related to possible violence?

Stacy Skalski:
I think most kids want others to know that they are struggling and they use their words and behaviors to cry out for help. I think kids will continue to give us these clues as long as they still have hope that things can get better. I also think that parents are generally the most informed about their children and that when they are aware that their son/daughter is struggling they generally seek out help for them. It is our role to do everything we can to help a student--part of that is making sure that the people who are closest to that student have a clear picture about how they are doing. I think that the more we connect with parents, the more we can help parents connect with their kids. Overall, the more adults show kids that they care and demonstrate this care in what they say and do, the more hope a child with have and the more potential for recovery and success in life.

Question from Lisa Palmer, Assistant Principal, Poquoson Elementary:
What are some strategies to use when talking with a parent when a school sees a potential mental health issue and the parent doesn’t. Also, is there anything that a school can do when the therapy a child is receiving outside of school isn’t making an impact on the school behavior.

John Kelly:
I am strong believer in the “team” approach. Inviting all involved people in (parents, teachers, administrators, support personnel, outside professionals) to strategize on appropriate levels of intervention. I find that most resistance comes from parents when they do not feel part of the process in school. We need to be able to share the decision making about certain issues with parents and others outside of school. This does not mean we hand over the reins to them, but make them part of the inner workings. I find that when others are involved in the establishment of goals, they have a higher level of commitment to these goals. This makes changing the course of action easier.

Question from Elizabeth Glenn, Mississippi teacher:
I understand the need to monitor students for mental problems that may cause enormous problems. However, I have often seen how students were ostracized once there diagnosis was known to others. How are we to protect the mentally ill students and teachers who are following their med regime and fighting hard to be “normal”? Let’s not turn this into a witch-hunt of mentally ill people.

Stacy Skalski:
We need to have informed, skilled school mental health professionals (like school psychologists, social workers, and counselors) available and accessible to every student in need. These professionals need to link up with these students and support them in their daily lives and work at school. In schools where these professionals are available and accessible, students with mental health needs are supported through assessment, intervention, and consultation activities. These professionals support the students and their families, teachers, administrators in udnerstanding how to appropriately respond to maximize the student’s potential. Further, these professionals can help build a culture in the school that is sensitive to people’s similarities, differences, needs, and assets. All of this builds the potential for success in school and in life for student’s with or without disabilities.

Question from Kristin Corrion, SSW Novi High School:
Any suggestions on how to address the rise in self mutilation behaviors, and the bonds some students have developed by doing this?

John Kelly:
Self-mutilation is an expression of feelings and emotions that an individual is experiencing inside, but has difficulty expressing in other ways. Effective forms of intervention involve getting the individual to verbalize these feelings or express them in other ways. Working with small groups who tend to do this together, especially girls, to help to develop these skills is effective. You help them develop new “social norms” toward more positive behavior.

Question from Tara Purcell, Parent Educator, Mount Carmel Area School District:
How young should you become concerned with when behaviors such as silence, isolating themselves, pictures and/or writings with dark theme start to show?

John Kelly:
There are certain normal developmental behaviors in young children, where they may have difficulty socializing with others. However, if you are seeing these behaviors in any child, don’t ignore it. Contact appropriate personnel in school and speak to the parents.

Question from Stephanie Washington, Ed.D., LMSW, Social Worker, Alternative School Program:
What role do you believe that issues of grief and loss play in the later development of severe anger and aggression?

John Kelly:
Unresolved grief and loss can lead to severe anger and aggression. Appropriate intervention is vital when anyone is struggling through the grief process.

Question from Sandi Beamon, Director, Science on Wheels Lab-non-profit organization:
When there are definite signs of trouble such as displatying angry subject matter for papers shared with teachers and staff why aren’t they mandated to report, just as we are mandated by law to report child abuse?

Stacy Skalski:
Whenever a student writes or says something that is threatening to themselves or others, they must be taken seriously and they must be surrounded with interventions and supports until we see definite positive change in their thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Too often, schools, parents and communities just don’t want to “believe” that a child could harm others. We have a terrible imagination for the horrific. We all need to remember that how a child behaves and communicates how he/she feels and thinks. If we hear or see disturbing things we all need to take responsibility for making sure that student gets the help that he/she needs.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this very informative chat. And a special thanks to our guests for taking the time to offer their insights and tips. This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted later today on

The Fine Print

All questions are screened by an editor and the guest speaker prior to posting. A question is not displayed until it is answered by the guest speaker. Due to the volume of questions received, we cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer any questions. Concise questions are strongly encouraged.

Please be sure to include your name and affiliation when posting your question.’s Online Chat is an open forum where readers can participate in a give- and-take discussion with a variety of guests. reserves the right to condense or edit questions for clarity, but editing is kept to a minimum. Transcripts may also be reproduced in some form in our print edition. We do not correct errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. In addition, we remove statements that have the potential to be libelous or to slander someone.

Please read our privacy policy and user agreement if you have questions.Chat Editors