Mental health conditions are among the most common challenges facing school aged children. In fact, of the 74.5 million children in the United States, an estimated 17.1 million have or have had a mental health condition — more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
Research has also shown a strong relationship between the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and an individual’s increased risk for a wide variety of serious mental and physical health conditions including anxiety, depression, obesity, heart disease and substance use disorders later in life.
Imagine if we could do something to reverse those trends. The good news is, we can. By supporting mindful educators and creating mental health systems within our schools that work in tandem with community mental health professionals and researchers, we can:
- identify students’ mental health needs and intervene early
- encourage student social and emotional learning
- create an integrated system of care where students have access to the treatment they need when they need it
- sustain progress to improve educational, social, emotional, and health outcomes for all our kids
As a mother of five, and an educator with over 15 years of experience working in public schools, I know that a child’s mental wellbeing is integral to his or her overall wellbeing and their success in the classroom. And when my husband Patrick created The Kennedy Forum, he did it to bring together the best minds to transform the way mental health and addiction are addressed in society – and education is critical to achieving our shared mission.
NPR's A Silent Epidemic
Our public schools are struggling to handle millions of students with mental health problems. Here’s why.
Amy L. Kennedy, Education Director of The Kennedy Forum, pursues partnerships and collaborations that emphasize evidence-based research and programming to facilitate policy change in the areas of education and mental health.
Amy serves on the boards of Mental Health America, a leading national advocacy organization; Parity.org, which promotes gender parity at the highest levels of business; and Effective School Solutions, an in-district provider of clinical services to students aged preschool through 12th grade. She is an advisory board member of Interaxon, a mental health technology company; Set To Go, a JED program helping teens transition from high school to college and adulthood with special emphasis on mental wellness and emotional preparedness; and Brain Futures.
Amy and her husband, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, live in southern New Jersey. An educator by training, she has over 15 years of experience working in public schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Her experiences as a teacher and as a mother of five propel her efforts and advocacy around social-emotional learning and mental wellness for children and adolescents. Amy’s research interests include the early identification and intervention of mental health concerns in children, the use of brain fitness tools and mindfulness within schools, and the development of prevention programs.
Amy holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Science in Environmental Education from Nova Southeastern University.
5 Pillars: The Pathway to Improving the Delivery of Mental Health Services in Education
Pillar 1: School-Community Partnerships
Developing collaborative working relationships between schools and the larger community will create pathways to ensure the delivery of comprehensive mental health services, and allow for the creation of a system of care in which services within the school system are enhanced, not duplicated.
Pillar 2: School-Based Mental Health Services
In order to build the schools that we need, educational institutions must develop a framework for the delivery of mental health services that will meet a wide range of students’ needs.
Pillar 3: Early Identification
The development of universal mental health screening programs in public education institutions across the nation should be deemed as equally important as current programs that screen regularly for vision, hearing, dental, and academic deficits. When schools provide universal mental health screenings for students at key transition points throughout their education, they increase the likelihood of success.
Pillar 4: Educating the Educators
Educators are faced with a wide range of student social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. We must provide meaningful training and professional development that meets the needs of teachers and empowers them to take on these challenges with confidence.
Pillar 5: Sustainability
One of the greatest barriers to mental health services in schools is how to sustain programs over the long term. School districts and local agencies can identify innovative ways to implement, fund and sustain this critical support.