Culture of Caring

Innovative Solutions

In today’s world, it would be virtually impossible for every school in the country to meet the goal of a 250-1 counselor ratio. While many districts continue to try to hire more counselors, social workers, and psychologists, there just aren’t enough trained professionals to go around.

So it’s up to the education world to get creative – something they are very good at.

What Higher Education Can Do

It seems logical that training more providers is an important step. That won’t happen overnight, but it has to start now. Federal grants are available to help increase the number of mental health professionals in schools. One of the grants—Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grants —encourages innovative partnerships between districts and higher education institutions to train providers to work in schools and districts. 

A handful of state education departments have pitched in additional money to support innovative school mental health programs. They range from tackling provider burnout to placing grad students and interns in school.

What is your state education department doing to support increasing youth mental health providers in schools? If you don’t know, contact them and ask. If they are not doing anything, you can be an advocate by reaching out to your state legislators to share your concerns and request action.

What Legislators Can Do

Besides supporting mental health programs for schools, legislators need to identify barriers that prevent people from entering mental health professions. Inadequate compensation is a critical issue.

You probably already know that mental health providers are reimbursed at such low rates that they can’t earn a decent wage. Many don’t take insurance for that reason. That makes it even harder to find a mental health provider if you can’t afford to pay at least $100 or more per hour.

Possible solutions include:

  • Increasing access to telehealth in every state.
  • Removing restrictions on the number of appointments that are reimbursable.
  • Allowing for prescribing of mental health medications via telehealth to improve access, especially in rural locations.

Contact your local legislators to ask them to support legislation that will increase access to mental health providers, especially for children and teens.

What Communities Can Do

Experts in the mental health field have suggestions about what we can do to increase access to mental health care. Some of these ideas apply to every one of us, while others apply to community leaders, law enforcement, and mental health providers in the community.

  • Reducing Stigma.
  • Preventing and Acting Early.
  • Closing Treatment Gaps and Improving Access.
  • Strengthening Crisis Response.
  • Establishing Community Wellness Hubs.
  • Aligning Partners, Policies, and Programs.

What Schools Can Do

Even without enough mental health providers, schools must focus on prevention. It should be a part of school culture from kindergarten to 12th grade. Every child should have a positive relationship with adults at school. It doesn’t have to be only teachers, but anyone who works or volunteers in the school. With everyone sharing the mindset that every child matters, a mentorship program is an option for any school.  

Prevention includes:

  • Educating staff, parents, and students on symptoms of and help for mental health problems.
  • Promoting social and emotional competency and building resilience.
  • Ensuring a positive, safe school environment.
  • Teaching and reinforcing positive behaviors and decision-making.
  • Encouraging helping others.

Change attitudes about punishing misbehavior into understanding misbehavior

When a child acts out or is disruptive in a classroom, teachers often respond by punishing them. How many times have you heard a teacher react by saying, “You’re going to the office right now!” Excluding children from the classroom may not be the most productive response. What if teachers were trained to take more time to understand a student’s behavior and could distinguish between mental health issues and misbehavior?

 Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) 

MTSS is a tool that helps schools provide tiered levels of support to all students. For those in need of more intensive support, partnerships with community providers can help fill the gaps.

Laughter is Good Medicine

How about a game of Pickleball? “Let’s go! Zero-zero-two. Game on!”

Really! It’s fun and it makes people laugh and enjoy being together. It can be played by children at any age and adults.

Benefits of Pickleball:

  • Inclusivity - Pickleball is an inclusive sport. Anyone can play and feel included.
  • Older children, younger children, and staff members can play together.
  • Strategy and skill building - Pickleball relies on strategic thinking more than athletic talent.
  • Fun way to develop better hand-eye coordination - an essential skill for many tasks in school like reading and decoding.
  • Pickleball brings people together. The psychological effects of being active, having fun, and appreciating each other might be just what many schools need. 


Belonging to any group or club has proven to be an effective prevention strategy. Making music together can be a mood lifter, whether it’s playing an instrument or singing.

Take a listen to One Voice Children’s Choir. It will put a smile on your face. I especially like Chosen Family.

Additional Resources

5 Ways School Districts Can Cope With Student Mental Health Challenges

Student mental health is in crisis. College campuses are rethinking their approach

A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.

Theodora Schiro