George Lucas Educational Foundation
Mental Health

Helping Students Return to School After a Mental Health Crisis

Returning to school after a mental health crisis can be hard for students, but setting aside space and time for recovery can help them adjust.

February 28, 2020
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With rates of anxiety and depression rising among children of all ages, schools are increasingly wrestling with ways to address students’ mental health needs so they are ready to learn. One particular challenge is helping students return to school following a mental health crisis, which can be overwhelming and set off a cycle of avoidance that delays their return, writes Alfonso Serrano for the Hechinger Report.

Several programs are now trying to ease this transition back to the classroom. The Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) program at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in Massachusetts, for example, sets aside one period a day for students returning from a mental health crisis to spend in a separate classroom where they can work on missed assignments, talk with a therapist, or just relax.

The school also employs a “three- to four-month reintegration plan that includes emotional support and mental care coordination,” such as coordination with external health care providers to ensure continuity of care and help prevent students from having another crisis down the road. “Both BRYT coordinators and teachers acknowledge it is unrealistic to expect students who miss weeks of school to make up all [their] class work, so care coordinators serve as a liaison between student and teacher, identifying key assignments and ironing out a makeup plan,” Serrano writes. Sometimes the assistance is small: For one student, the idea of physically reentering the building induced anxiety. One of the program coordinators, Ashley Sitkin, met the student at the door and walked with him to the classroom each day.

The Bridge program at Boston Arts Academy, another high school offering transitional services, focuses on early intervention. “If program coordinators notice a student becoming high risk—excessive absences or tardiness—they will intervene,” Serrano writes. One student there, a senior named Dashawn, lost his father and was abandoned by his mother. “Program coordinators gave him gift cards for food and helped him fill out applications for housing,” Serrano writes. “But they also gave him a space to sit down and gather his thoughts.”

While programs like these offer a “a short-term stabilization model,” Serrano writes, there is an ongoing need to improve schools’ mental health resources and interventions—like helping students develop coping strategies to deal with challenges. In the meantime, it is crucial that schools identify the needs of students who are reentering school after a crisis and offer support for the transition.

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