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As students report increases in depression, anxiety and other mental health issues three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, two national organizations have partnered to develop a district-wide roadmap to improve student mental health.

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Z Foundation announced this week an initiative called The District Comprehensive Approach, which aims to provide school districts across the country with best practices, expert support, and data-driven how-to guidance. According to Rebecca Bengiat, president and chief operating officer of the Z Foundation, best supports students’ mental health and suicide prevention.

“We want to make sure that interventions are in places where children spend most of their time,” he said in an interview Monday. “Districts can do a lot to support student mental health, and we want to make sure they have the tools and skills to do it.”

The guidelines — which the group is still developing — will be an adaptation of a framework the Jade Foundation developed for high schools., has been extended to apply to entire districts Jed is a national nonprofit, founded in 1998 after the death of its founder’s son by suicide, that focuses on suicide prevention and youth mental health care.

The organization’s guidelines for high schools focus on seven overarching themes: developing life skills, promoting social connections, encouraging help-seeking behaviors, improving recognition of distress signs, accessing mental health care, establishing crisis management procedures, and promoting the importance of keeping Lethal and dangerous items away from children.

The High School Framework follows a tiered model through which schools employ strategies and activities aimed at creating a positive climate in which students are more connected to create a positive climate, as well as more targeted interventions for students experiencing mental health crises or other serious problems. and feel comfortable asking for help. the problem

The district guidelines from AASA and The Z Foundation come as children have seen a significant increase in anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to several reports, including survey data from the US Centers for Disease Control and US Centers for Prevention and US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

In February, the CDC released the data Adolescents, especially girls and those who identify as LGBTQ+, report experiencing more mental health problems.

That report found that 57 percent of female students and 69 percent of LGBTQ+ students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or depression, compared to 29 percent of male students. Twenty-two percent of high school students—one in four—reported having seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Once The District Comprehensive Approach is developed, Z Foundation will work with selected districts to assess their individual needs and develop guidelines for meeting them.

The foundation plans to do this through a survey of district staff and community members to understand “what’s working, what’s not, the pressures and pain points,” which could help inform a districtwide strategic plan, Bengiat said.

The Z Foundation will work with districts for about three years to develop and implement plans, then conduct a similar survey to begin the process of evaluating its success, Bengiat said. Z workers will be assigned to participating districts across the country, Bengiat said.

The initiative will begin in the fall with about 15 districts, which have yet to be announced, and the parties plan to add more districts annually or biannually.

Districts interested in getting involved can contact Jade, Bengiat said; Districts are already on the waiting list for the next batch.

Schools play an important role in supporting children’s mental health

Because students spend so much of their time in school, districts are the first line of defense when it comes to children’s mental health, Bengiat said. It’s a critical, but often daunting, task that can leave district leaders feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start or what to prioritize.

More than 70 percent of the 2,000 students who responded to an Edwick Research Center survey In the winter of 2021 there were more problems at school than in previous years, such as low grades, incomplete schoolwork, and feeling tired during class or too sad to focus.

“What we’re really trying to do is take an approach that doesn’t really require system leaders to have any clinical training, just an understanding of what the factors are that can affect a student’s mental health, and then provide support in implementing policies. And methods that are psychological.” Health aids,” Bengiat said.

Jed has not previously worked with schools at a district level, as its work typically focuses on individual schools. So, the move is “a recognition that we believe significant support and change is most effective at the district level,” Bengiat said.

In a statement, AASA Executive Director David Schuler said the new partnership and district-level guidance will be transformative for school systems across the country.

“By addressing mental health disparities in our school communities, we can help change the lives of countless students and, in turn, improve the future of our nation’s public education system—and our nation as a whole,” Schuler said.

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