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Rural Health Information Hub

School-Based Social and Emotional Supports Model

Mental health conditions often begin in early childhood and can impact long-term health and well-being. Children growing up in rural communities may live in neighborhoods that lack access to parks, libraries, and community centers. The lack of access to certain amenities in rural communities can make it harder for families to give their children opportunities to thrive and grow.

Schools serve as hubs in rural communities and can play an essential role in addressing the mental health needs of students and their families. In some areas, school-based mental health services may be the only mental health services children are able to access. Rural communities can create school-based social and emotional support programs to promote positive mental health early in life and serve as valuable prevention and early intervention for mental health issues.

The National Center for Rural School Mental Health (NCRSMH) helps rural schools address youth mental health concerns. NCRSMH works with school districts to develop and assess a comprehensive approach to advancing mental health through prevention, identification, and intervention. The Center is developing the Early Identification System for rural schools, which includes online student report and teacher evaluation tools, an online mental health training library, a dashboard system, and tools to monitor effectiveness of interventions selected. NCRSMH created a cost calculator tool to help calculate the cost of school programs that support students' mental health.

Examples of Rural School-Based Social and Emotional Support Programs

  • Sources of Strength is an evidence-based program that addresses youth mental health promotion and suicide prevention. The mission of Sources of Strength is to prevent adverse outcomes by increasing healthy coping, resiliency, help-seeking, well-being, and belonging. Clintonville High School, in Clintonville, Wisconsin, implemented the Sources of Strength program at their school. The school's goal was to change the overall school climate around mental health and wellness. The Clintonville Sources of Strength program has 51 active peer leaders in a school of 400 students. Clintonville credits the success of the program to drawing upon student strengths, providing guidance to students who take on leadership roles, and being flexible so more students can participate with minimal stress.

Implementation Considerations

Rural schools are often not well-equipped to screen students for mental health conditions due to limited resources and staff. Schools should consider partnering with organizations and local clinics to offer school-based mental health resources.

When implementing a school-based social and emotional support program it is important to consider the need for trained professional staff, funds to run the program, and a developed curriculum. The Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network provides implementation tools for mental health programs in rural schools.

Another important consideration for school-based services is parental consent. Rural programs may need to design and implement consent forms and procedures for obtaining parental permission for students to obtain services in a school setting.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

Collaboration to Support Rural Student Social-Emotional Needs
Provides information regarding students' social-emotional needs and the importance of collaboration between specialized support personnel and educators in rural schools.
Author(s): Nichols, L., Goforth, A., Sacra, M., & Ahlers, K.
Citation: The Rural Educator, 38(1), 38-48
Date: 2017

Meeting Students Where They Are: Trauma-Informed Approaches in Rural Schools
Provides details on how trauma-informed approaches in rural schools may mitigate the effects of childhood adversity and reduce achievement gaps for rural students.
Author(s): Frankland, M.
Citation: The Rural Educator, 42(2), 51-71
Date: 2021

A Rural Therapist and School Program Address Teen Mental Health
Discusses the need for behavioral health services in schools to address teen mental health in rural areas.
Author(s): Mead, A.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub
Citation: Rural Monitor
Date: 1/2023