by Samantha Stout, PWHS Class of 2022

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Colonial School District wants to remind students that “it’s okay to not be okay.”.

Our District provides a caring team of adults that work to address all issues a student may be dealing with during the school year, whether it’s behavioral or academic. When you come to school you should have the assurance that if you have a problem, your school can help you with it.

Starting as early as kindergarten, students have access to in-school resources including the various school counselors, administrators, and individual/group meetings to address behavioral health concerns. Whenever a student, or somebody who cares about them, feels as though there’s a barrier to the students' learning, they can refer them to the school’s SAP team. 

SAP, which stands for the Student Assistance Program, helps our schools have a plan for identifying and assisting students who are experiencing barriers to their education. One service it provides is connecting K-12 families with SAP screenings, which are web-based behavior screenings for students that look for symptoms of suicide, depression, trauma, psychosis, substance abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, bullying, and any family, personal, and school issues. 

Some examples of the SAP prevention programs being provided in our classrooms include Second Step and Too Good for Drugs at the elementary schools, as well as Botvin Life Skills currently at the middle school and Signs of Suicide scheduled to start next year at the high school. These programs introduce and reinforce the importance of good mental health and when to ask for help. 

To provide students with additional care, the Colonial School District partners with Carson Valley Children's Aid, who can connect families with local resources to diagnose and treat a variety of mental illnesses. This includes programs for substance abuse like the Marijuana Brief Intervention, an evidence-based program that helps students through withdrawal, dealing with change, problem solving, and relapse prevention. 

Students can access these resources by telling any adult staff member within the building that they would like to connect with the SAP team. Friends and families can also reach out to the SAP teams by contacting the school or by clicking here to visit www.colonialsd.org/mentalhealth. Students are encouraged to seek help from whichever resource is available, and whenever they feel like they need to. Teachers in the district are trained to recognize symptoms of behavioral changes in order to recognize and help students who have trouble asking for help themselves.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illness is proving to be a growing crisis in America, affecting almost 50% of adolescents, and one in five adults. However, mental illness still seems to have a weight of stigma attached to it. Being educated on Behavioral Health in school can help us better understand ourselves and our peers, and keep our learning environment safe.