Importance of Trauma Services in Schools

Lisa Jaycox (bio) explains the impact of trauma on learning and the advantage schools have when it comes to supporting mental health.

Schools' primary mission is education. And so, often, people ask, "Why try and do mental health services in schools? It's not their main function." But, schools have always also paid attention to barriers to learning. So, routinely do screening for vision and hearing problems, for instance, to make sure that the students can absorb the material.

We know that post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and depressive symptoms interfere with learning and there's a lot of data now accumulating that trauma exposure itself can interfere. Concentration problems and that kind of thing in class, but also, you see lower grade point average, you see higher rates of high school dropout, more absenteeism from school. So, it has a direct impact on learning. And that makes it part of the school's mission.

But, the other great thing about working in schools is that you get around some of the barriers that are in place for students, kids, who are needing mental health services. In the U.S., we know that most of the kids who have mental health problems do not get any kind of treatment at all and that's because of things like stigma, but also costs and logistic barriers, trouble with transportation and scheduling, fitting it into busy schedules. And the kids least likely to get treatment are the ones who might need it the most — ethnic minorities, impoverished kids.

So, schools can get around a lot of those barriers. You can deliver it onsite, you can work directly with the kids. It's often at no cost to the family, and the stigma's reduced because it's a support program rather than over at the mental health center. So, that really makes it easier to work in schools and to reach the most vulnerable kids.

And then, around trauma, schools have had an interesting role there. Sometimes, there's been school shootings or suicide clusters or a death of — a tragic death of a student or a teacher and that makes the school automatically need to respond. So, they've been thrust into a role there.

Also, after times of disaster, schools are often shelters and community food distribution sites, and they serve as a hub for recovery. And so, they have this role already. And then, it's a natural extension of that to start to do longer-term recovery and work on the mental health aspect as well.

Schools are also a place where kids spend most of their time. Many of their waking hours are here at school and teachers are already in the role of helping and supporting them on a daily basis. So, there's an opportunity to leverage that natural environment and make it even more supportive for them so that they can recover here. And so, that's a real advantage of working in schools is you can bring all those resources together and have them help support the mental health.

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Excerpted from an interview at SSET Training 2013 in Los Angeles, CA.


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