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When I was developing the ScholarCentric resiliency assessment and intervention program,1 I vividly remember a quiet high school sophomore looking over their self-report ratings for mental, psychological, and physical health. The bar graph results for all five areas – sleeping, agitation, eating, feeling down, and physical symptoms – were elevated way over the average peer ratings. I bent down and quietly said, “it looks like you might want to talk with someone?” They replied, “yes, I think I do.” As we begin to reopen schools this fall, mental health must be front and center. 

There is growing national awareness and parent advocacy for schools to ramp up mental health assessment and supports this school year.2 What we need are assessment tools that enable youth to reflect on their own challenges so that they have the power to define for themselves the areas that need to be addressed while also being able to fully screen which students may need immediate attention and supports.

As a well-researched and validated screening instrument,3 I have countless stories from administrators about the results of my ScholarCentric assessments being able to accurately identify which of their often high performing students were “at-risk” for struggling in school. After one presentation in New York, an administrator thanked me for the assessment saying that without it, they never would have known that their Valedictorian had recently attempted suicide. This was one of many stories I have been told over the years – talented youth who were recently hospitalized, struggling with anxiety, overcome with depression and an increasing number who were homeless.  While so many of our students may “act well,” they are suffering.

The “well-being” scale is one of six areas measured in our suite of ScholarCentric assessments. The well-being scale areas are all evidence-based indicators of emotional and psychological distress. 

  • It has long been known that sleep disturbance severely impacts mood and one’s ability to respond to stress4 can be indicative of a range of issues including anxiety, depression, and loss.5
  • When someone reports elevated eating issues, it is important to know if the issue is based on overeating,6 not eating7 and/or food access insecurity.8
  • Elevated levels for “Feeling down” could point to someone who may be depressed.9 
  • Physical symptoms can serve as somatic indicators of mental health.10

These five areas can be thought of as “barometers” of well-being. They indicate that something is out of balance. The aim is to enable youth to reflect on their personalized results and determine for themselves whether any of the areas need attention. Then, we can further support them by facilitating classroom conversations to brainstorm coping and management strategies.

Here’s a plan for Fall:

  1. After school has begun and the routine is underway, school counselors can administer an assessment like the ScholarCentric screening survey.
  2. If using our screening survey, the School Counselors will receive both school summary and personalized student reports with indicators of which students may be most at-risk.
  3. School Counselors can then share with students their personalized results in classroom settings such as advisory periods.
  4. Consider starting the discussion with the results for “well-being.” The other resiliency skill results will support a deeper understanding of ways to manage mental health and academic engagement. The personalized results are presented in such a way as to allow youth to take ownership of their challenges can lead to their identifying which areas they want to change (e.g., setting SMART11 goals).
  5. Consider having educators then provide lessons that can deepen the conversation and awareness of ways to improve emotional and psychological well-being. An example of a free-access lesson is “Optimizing Your Learning”12 that helps youth think about ways of managing their challenges.

Data and conversation is what will help us as educators to better understand the nature of each student’s mental health concerns while also helping us help youth develop new management strategies for addressing those concerns. And, by becoming aware of which students have significant or more complex challenges and concerns, we are in a stronger position as counselors to connect them with the resources they need to manage through.

 

References

1 Howard, K. A. & Solberg, V. S. (2006).  School-Based Social Justice: The Achieving Success Identity Pathways Program. Professional School Counselor, 94, 278-294; later rebranded as ScholarCentric and Success Highways

2 https://abcnews.go.com/Health/focus-mental-health-essential-students-returning-school-fall/story?id=78564028

3 Davis, A., Solberg, V. S., de Baca, C. & Hargrove, T. (2014).  Use of Social Emotional Learning Skills to Predict Future Academic Success and Progress Toward Graduation. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 19, 169-182. DOI:10.1080/10824669.2014.972506; Solberg, V. S., Howard, K. A. S., Gresham, S., & Carter, E. (2012). The impact of quality learning experiences on self-determination skills: A path analytic study among students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals. Close, W. and Solberg, V. S. H. (2008). Predicting achievement, distress, and retention among Lower Income Latino Youth.  Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72, 31-42.

4 http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood

5 https://www.medicinenet.com/agitation/symptoms.htm

6 https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/binge-eating-disorder-medref

7 https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/external/2018/03/relationship-food-mood/#:~:text=Without%20a%20steady%20source%20of,lead%20to%20low%20blood%20sugar

8 https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-10631-0

9 https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2019/10/the-difference-between-feeling-sad-and-having-depression/

10 https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Physical_Symptoms_of_Emotional_Distress-Somatic_Symptoms_and_Related_Disorders-124.aspx

11 https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/smart-goals

12 You can find other free access lessons that address social emotional learning and career readiness at https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/16WA9PThr5lhyb-V09-ehxnJkYNm3Skst

Scott Solberg

Scott Solberg

Scott H. Solberg, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Counseling and Applied Human Development at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. Dr. Solberg is working internationally and nationally on the design, implementation, and evaluation of effective career development programs and services, especially for high-need youth populations, including youth with disabilities. As part of his Boston University Center for Career Readiness (with Dr. Kimberly Howard), his research, professional development, and curriculum is shaping the career development implementation policies and practices in the United States and around the world.