Mental health care is always a hot-button topic, but never more so than in the wake of a violent tragedy like the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Blame is being batted around like a tennis ball, with fingers pointed at gun regulations, missed mental health signals, ignored reports of a potential for violence, delayed reactions from security, and any number of other people and situations. All these things may or may not have played a factor in the events of that day, but the one thing that is the most common factor in any situation like this of the perpetrator’s need for mental health care.
School is often one of the first places where mental health issues in youth begin to be recognized. Parents can become conditioned to the actions and reactions of their child, failing to realize that a personality trait or quirk is a sign of something bigger. However, once these children reach school age, school nurses are often the first to assess students showing irregularities of behavior.
Identification and Referral
Among all of their other important physical health-related tasks, school nurses need to have an understanding of the signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Working with teachers to recognize these signs in students and to assist students and their families in finding care providers to continue with the proper diagnosis and treatment is one of the most important parts of the role of school nurses in mental health care.
Medication Administration and Monitoring
Once a student has been diagnosed with a mental illness, school nurses will likely be tasked with administering any prescribed medications. Nurses should educate themselves on the potential interactions and side effects of the prescriptions and monitor for potential issues. Sharing information with parents and the prescribing doctors about the results they have noticed and concerns that they might have for their student is important to successful care.
Provide a Safe Haven
School nurses can also help to provide a safe haven for students who are struggling with mental illness. They may need a place of calm and quite to help them through an episode of anxiety. Some might simply need a little isolation from others, but without the stigma of being sent to guidance or the principal. The school nurse typically has the space to allow for their office to be a quiet place for children with mental health challenges to reflect and reset.
Contributing to Overall Care Team
Checking in with teachers and counselors to see how the student is coping in the classroom and other situations is another piece of the puzzle involving school nurses and mental health care. This will help you to give vital feedback to parents and caregivers about the success of treatment. It can also help to uncover red flags so that alternate treatment or a different course of action can be taken to ensure the child is getting the care they need to have their healthiest life.