TX. Studying

In 2016, the number of Davis County youth ages 0 to 17 in need of mental health treatment was 11,363. The number who received treatment? A mere 2,154.

In October 2018, Davis Behavioral Health and the Davis School District made an effort to close this gap by offering free mental health screenings for youth ages 12 to 18.

“What we’ve found is anxiety and depression are prevalent in young people and accessing services has been difficult, so this is trying to help them first identify if there are any issues and then link them with services,” said Isa Perry, Davis County Health Community Outreach Planner.

As students continue to show mental health concerns, schools are increasing their efforts to help. One way to provide this help is through school psychologists. Similar to school counselors, school psychologists are there to assist students as they pursue academic and social success. School psychologists have training to support all students, but have specialized training to support students with disabilities, students with problems affecting their academic or social/behavioral success and students whom may be in crisis. In recognition of School Psychologist Awareness Week this month (November 12-16), let’s introduce just how they help each of those groups.

Students with disabilities

When students have disabilities, school psychologists are there to help. Whether students have an evaluation or not, school psychologists can identify and assist students with disabilities that affect their learning and may offer an evaluation if appropriate. Some disabilities psychologists can help with include:

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Emotional Disturbance such as, but not limited to depression and anxiety

Specific Learning Disability

Traumatic Brain Injury


Intellectual Disabilities

A school psychologist, with parental permission, may assess a student’s cognitive, social/behavioral and adaptive needs. Once a student’s specific needs have been identified, the school psychologist works with the parents and school-based team to develop a plan, which sometimes is in the form of an Individualized Education Program or 504. The school psychologist may also help the student become more engaged by helping teachers adapt or modify instruction to better meet the student’s needs.

Students with problems affecting their academic success

Academic success is closely tied to mental and emotional health. If students are struggling to pay attention (and teachers are struggling to help them), school psychologists can get to the root cause and help everyone involved.

Student motivation: They can help students be more motivated to work hard and be engaged in class and homework.

Student behavior management: They act as a support and source of information for teachers and administrators.

Referrals to special education: They ensure that referrals to special education are appropriate and that students are receiving the proper support for their unique needs.

Data: They gather and interpret data about students and classrooms to help current and future students benefit from the best care possible.

Prevent and respond to crises

By 2017, the suicide rate in Utah was 42 per 100,000 people. School psychologists are trained mental health professionals and they are a needed resource in schools to identify students at risk for suicide and intervene by informing parents and offering counseling or providing referrals. Risk factors for suicide include:

“Previous suicide attempt(s)

Isolation and aloneness

Non-suicidal self-injury (e.g., cutting)

Mental illness including depression, conduct disorders and substance abuse

Family stress/dysfunction

Family history of suicide

Environmental risks, including presence of a firearm in the home

Situational crises (e.g., the presence of a gun in the home, bullying and harassment, serious disciplinary action, death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, breakup of a relationship/friendship, family violence, suicide of a peer).”

School psychologists also help prevent violence and bullying, and also help students who have been victims. It is recommended that schools create threat assessment teams that include at least a school psychologist, police officer and administrator to respond immediately when there’s a threat of students harming themselves or others.

How do school psychologists collaborate with school counselors and school social workers?

School counselors, school social workers and school psychologists all work together in supporting student success. It’s important to note that each role will vary by school district based on staffing. The roles performed also vary based on elementary or secondary schools.

These providers can work together on assisting students with academic issues, study skills, improving social skills, getting ready for college and class schedules as well as larger concerns like dealing with divorce, bullying and even possible abuse. This team also collaborates when working with families, teachers, mental health professionals and others to implement programs, assessments and even adjust curricula to make schools safe places with supportive learning environments. A school psychologist, similar to other school-based support team members, may also provide direct mental health services to students. One distinction in roles, however, is that a school psychologist does conduct evaluations.

As mental health becomes an increasing concern for students, school psychologists are there to be an advocate for each child. School psychologists help students with disabilities, students who may struggle with problems affecting their academic success and all students who may be threatened by violence or need help recovering from a crisis.

School counselors, school social workers and school psychologists are important resources who can help each child achieve success.

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