Listen before it’s too late: Protect children with proactive mental health

Ending this crisis requires a new approach 一 one that fills the mental health provider gap with a new workforce

Kids are reaching a breaking point.

In 2019, the CDC reported that 20% of adolescents between 12 and 17 had experienced a major depressive episode. Today, post-pandemic, more than 40% of students report feeling sad or depressed, and 50% of parents say that the pandemic has negatively affected their children’s mental health

Scarier still, there’s a nationwide shortage of mental health professionals, especially those equipped to treat kids and teens. Child psychologists’ waiting lists can be up to 6 months long. And those professionals primarily care for kids with insurance.

So how can we provide equitable access to wellness resources? Ending this crisis requires a new approach 一 one that fills the mental health provider gap with a new workforce who can listen and act before it’s too late.

How do we solve the children’s mental health crisis?

Spot-treating this issue, what we’ve consistently done, isn’t working. Instead, we need to reach kids before they hit a breaking point with science-backed solutions. Let’s explore a few ways to reframe the current approach to children’s mental health.

Rethink the MTSS Model

Many school districts adopt MTSS or Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Within the MTSS framework, students are classified into three Tiers. Students in Tier 1 have a traditional classroom experience, with little one-on-one time. In addition to the classroom experience, Tier 2 students receive supplemental, targeted instruction. Tier 3 students receive the most intensive intervention, intended for students with more significant needs or whose needs are not sufficiently met by Tier 2 supports.

While this method has worked in the past, it isn’t working now 一 especially post-pandemic. Kids were separated from their peers for two years and forced to learn in unconducive environments. Upon returning to school, more and more children in Tier 1 are needing personalized intervention, which are Tier 2 and Tier 3 resources. They need extra support but don’t fit the Tier 3 paradigm.

Unfortunately, teachers and counselors aren’t equipped, nor do they have the emotional capacity to manage this extra load on their own. According to the Institute for Education Sciences, 44% of public schools reported that they could not effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.

Of those schools, 61% said they had insufficient mental health professional staff necessary to manage the school’s caseload, and 57% said they had inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals. Schools need an extension of their team who can listen to Tier 2 students and offer them additional support.

Coaching reaches every kid in the MTSS Framework

Non-clinical Coaches can manage the overflow, taking the weight off of educators while helping every kid in need. And that’s because there is a distinct difference between therapy and coaching.

Therapy addresses diagnosed mental illness and focuses on healing from the past. But only 13 - 20% of US children meet criteria for a mental disorder each year. The remainder needs another outlet for expressing their feelings.

Unlike therapy, coaching focuses on goals for the future. It addresses common stressors and challenges a majority of individuals face.

Therapy also takes place once a need has been identified, but there are so many benefits to long term inner self work. Coaching is a way to triage as well as work through issues before they become big ones down the road. A study by the World Health Organization found that 50% of mental health illnesses begin by the age of 14 and most of those go undetected and untreated.

For those reasons, coaches are the ideal support system for Tier 1, 2, and 3 children, listening to and acknowledging their difficulties in school and at home. At the same time, coaches can teach kids proactive ways to cope with their problems moving forward.

Proactive mental health with coaching

To a kid, a crisis comes in all shapes and sizes. Struggling to make friends in school or feeling left out of group activities is a big deal.

Over time, these feelings build on each other. And the impact of loneliness can contribute to mental health problems up to 9 years post-social isolation.

But counselors are often too busy responding to Tier 3 kids to fulyl support  Tier 1 and 2 kids’ emotions. And without someone to talk to, situations venture into dangerous territory.

Crisis text lines and intensive clinical therapy are helpful, but there’s only so much you can undo when a child gets to that point. Leaning too heavily on reactive support such as a crisis text line is too little too late. By supporting kids before they reach a breaking point, we’re teaching kids to reach out when the stakes are low, so they’re more likely to reach out when the stakes are high. To avoid detrimental circumstances, we need to focus on proactive mental health at every level.

And that’s where non-clinical Coaches come into play. Coaching provides a more equitable approach to reaching every child.  Coaches can listen to and guide every child, regardless of their MTSS categorization or insurance status. They can also serve as a protective shield, screening for clinical care early and often.  

Supporting proactive mental health without sacrificing safety

The rise of technology opens the door to virtual coaching 一 a proactive mental health approach that can meet kids where they are.

But the online world can be a dangerous place. When kids who are struggling search for solutions to their problems, they can receive misguided advice or misinformation. 

For coaching to become a viable solution, it has to be safe and secure. Thankfully, coaching providers like Clayful have designed their app’s architecture with a child’s safety and security in mind. Within the Clayful app:

  • No images are requested.
  • Coaches can’t see a child’s name or email address.
  • Chats are monitored through the Clayful algorithm and a secondary Super Coach.
  • Chat information is only disclosed when required or permitted by law.

In addition, coaching doesn’t follow a set script. Coaches help students uncover the root of their struggles and the coping mechanisms that work best for them. And because Clayful’s coaching community is so vast and diverse, every student can find a set of coaches that complement their demeanor and personality, no matter their background.

Tackling the mental health crisis

Every kid deserves equitable access to wellness resources, and today, we’re doing them a disservice.

Operating on the same MTSS model we’ve always used is not the answer. And even if it were, we wouldn’t even have enough therapists to support Tier 3 students. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that by 2025, the nation will have 10,000 fewer mental health professionals than it needs

Kids need a safe space to air their concerns before they bottle them up. They deserve to be heard by kind, caring, trained individuals who can help them find adaptive strategies to the inevitable challenges they face in school and at home. Without proper support, kids, their parents, educators, and counselors face an even bigger, insurmountable crisis in the future.

Clayful empowers schools to reach every student with on-demand text-based coaching before, during, and after school. Coaches are trained to work specifically with kids and alert professionals before they feel a child needs clinical intervention. On the back end, schools can monitor students’ progress and identify macro trends that help them cultivate a more positive learning environment.

Curious about Clayful? Learn more by talking to one of our coaching experts today.