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Program Helps Students Return to Class After a Mental Health Crisis

As many as one in five children need help with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. These students often have trouble processing information or focusing, which can contribute to a cycle of increased anxiety, dropping grades and missed school, say experts. Yet schools typically lack the money and staff to help students cope with what experts describe as a mental health epidemic. One study found that nearly 80 percent of students failed to receive the mental health care they needed, and more than 50 percent of students ages 14 and older with emotional and behavioral disabilities drop out of school.

“Districts that are less resourced might be sharing one psychologist for the entire school district, or one psychologist who is responsible for 3,000 kids,” said Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, policy director for the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). “When you have these shortage of these professionals, you’re really only able to serve those kids who are in extreme crisis.”

Absent a national blueprint for helping students cope with mental health conditions, states are scrambling to identify potential prototypes. The Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) program, which was founded and pioneered in a Boston-area school in 2004 by the nonprofit Brookline Center for Community Mental Health, has emerged as a successful model for helping kids re-enter school after a mental health crisis. The Brookline Center works with school districts to help them plan and implement BRYT programs, which are staffed by school employees. Although the center doesn’t finance programs, it helps schools identify potential sources of funding.

Ninety percent of students in BRYT remain on track to graduate, and their attendance rates have increased from 52 percent before participation to above 80 percent after. The program itself is expanding. BRYT’s director, Paul Hyry-Dermith, said 137 schools in Massachusetts now employ the program and pilots are starting to roll out in Rhode Island, New York and New Hampshire. Partnerships are also in the works with school districts in Washington state and Oregon.

At Cambridge Rindge & Latin, an ethnically diverse school that in 2018 sent 82 percent of its graduates to college, the BRYT classroom is tucked at the end of a quiet hallway.

“Many of the kids in our program are coming out of a psychiatric hospitalization,” said Ashley Sitkin, BRYT clinician/program leader at Rindge & Latin. “Some of the kids haven’t been hospitalized but they’ve missed a lot of school because they’ve gotten stuck in this avoidance cycle, which is really common for kids who struggle with anxiety and depression.”

At Rindge & Latin, Sitkin and her colleague, academic coordinator Nkrumah Jones, disrupt that cycle with a three-to-four-month reintegration plan that includes emotional support and mental care coordination.

Sitkin at Rindge & Latin emphasized that BRYT is a short-term stabilization model. She agrees with Vaillancourt Strobach — schools need to be better equipped to help students cope with social-emotional issues when they’re younger, before the problems grow. Only focusing on students in crisis is unsustainable, she said.

Excerpted from “Schools struggle to help students return to class after a mental health crisis” in The Hechinger Report. Read the full article.

Source: The Hechinger Report | Schools struggle to help students return to class after a mental health crisis, https://hechingerreport.org/schools-struggle-to-help-students-return-to-class-after-a-mental-health-crisis | Copyright © 2010-2018 by Teachers College at Columbia University

Learn more about the BRYT program.

A screening can help you determine if you or someone you care about should contact a mental health professional. Care Coordinators can arrange a free 30 minute Care Consultation so you can explore options with an expert. Call or email our Care Coordinators at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org to set up an initial Consultation appointment.

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