Adolescent Mental Health in the School Setting

Two out of three students in the US are likely to have experienced one or more traumatic events by age 17. Research has linked acute and chronic trauma with higher levels of aggression, defiant and disruptive behavior, hyperactivity, impulsivity, sexual promiscuity, sleep dysfunction, and substance use and dependence.

Kids who do not have their mental health needs addressed are likely to be disruptive or even destructive in class, impeding their own learning as well as the learning of other students. This leaves teachers and faculty with few choices, often reacting with exclusionary disciplinary practices such as suspension, expulsion, moving to an alternative school, and even police involvement.

In Texas, a recent report by Texans Care for Children and Texas Appleseed found that officers arrested students 29,136 times and issued 41,304 tickets or complaints in a four-year time period. The majority of those offenses were behavior-based. These interventions remove the student from the classroom, but do not address the root cause of the behavior.

In an article for the Star-Telegram, Dr. Octavio Martinez Jr. writes, “It might sound like a cliché to say that teaching is a stressful job. But behind the cliché lies a grim reality: Overburdened teachers dealing with a variety of issues in the classroom, including unaddressed mental health needs, often resort to punitive measures that alienate kids from school and feed the “school-to-prison” pipeline. This reality is the result of a failure to give teachers the resources and support they need to respond differently.”

We cannot simply look at this issue from the student’s perspective, but must address the entire system surrounding a child’s academic performance. Non-parental relationships, such as a teacher-student relationship, are critically important to classroom success. Teachers who are poorly supported report lower personal coping resources, less job satisfaction, and less commitment to their current job.

“If we really want these kids to have long-lasting change, we need to pay attention to the adults working with them and engage other systems of care,” says Dr. Elizabeth Minne, psychologist and executive director at Vida Clinic, an Austin-based practice specializing in school-based mental health programs.


Addressing the Education System, Starting with Teachers

In 2014, the Hogg Foundation awarded funds to a collaboration between Crockett High School and Vida Clinic to create a culture where school staff feel more equipped to work through challenges in the classroom and reduce exclusionary disciplinary practices.

“We want everyone in the school community to have positive, meaningful connections – adults-to-students, adults-to-adults, students-to-students.”

Dr. Elizabeth Minne, psychologist and executive director, Vida Clinic

Vida Clinic provides Crocket High School with a licensed psychologist and a doctoral student in psychology who are available for consultation and support services for the teachers and faculty. Going beyond training, Vida Clinic utilizes a combination of campus-wide talks on broad topics like trauma and youth, small group work that builds skills and a sense of community, and one-on-one sessions with teachers to work through specific issues. Their program helps teachers nurture self-improvement, and real-life application of values and skills.

All of their work is trauma-informed and provides a positive perspective on this difficult work. Preliminary success has resulted in additional funds and the opportunity to expand services to Anderson High School.

Through their trauma-informed approach to behaviors in schools, Vida Clinic has established a campus-based mental health system that includes intervention and wellness. It provides support for students while also building the capacity for the people in their lives to provide better support.

Learn more about Vida Clinic’s work on this initiative. For more information on the foundation’s projects in this area, contact Stephany Bryan.