To help our students be successful, we know that teaching them to problem solve and search resources for what they need is a necessary life skill. This is absolutely true in all areas of life, even their own mental health. However, what is also true is that we need to provide them with resources and people that can help them in their most troubled times. When they are in the headspace of self-preservation, they (or their families in emergency situations) may not have the cognitive capacity to think about how they will find help. If ever someone has said, "I didn't know who else to call," someone has dropped the ball and has not provided them with an understanding of the ecosystem of support that they have available. And I don't mean doing this in abstract ways: "There are many people you can call for help if you need it" but instead blatantly saying, "Here are people in the community available to you if you need help and here are their phone numbers."
An activity that we can do to help students understand how much support they actually have is to walk them through available resources at the national, regional, school, and home levels and help them understand what each level of support is for (ie crisis versus feeling challenged).
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) has a 24/7 national hotline for treatment referral services. There is also an online treatment locator. This is not a counseling service, but they will help find services for those who call for free. There are also a number of online preventative and informational resources on their website. 1800-662-HELP or text HELP4U (435748).
Findahelpline.com is a fairly all-encompassing helpline for various mental health supports that would typically be considered crisis hotlines. Some of them have crisis counselors on call to help people feeling overwhelmed. Through this link on findahelpline.com you'll find support like:
988 Suicide and Prevention Hotline (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Hotline)
The Crisis Text Line
Games and Online Harassment Hotline
Boys Town National Hotline
National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline
Regional support centers are typically behavioral health centers. Some of them have 24/7 helplines or inpatient emergency services but they are also available for appointments that are non-emergency situations. To find these centers near you, Google terms like "(city) mental health crisis intervention," "(county) mental health services," or "(city) behavioral health." For example, the county I live in has its own mental health services number. Find that example here: Outagamie County.
Because school personnel are going to be the ones that spend a good majority of the time with students creating relationships, they may also be the ones that students confide in. Helping students understand that they would never be in trouble for discussing their mental health is a good first step. Also, providing students with people in the district that they can reach out to for help that they may not know about is also helpful. For example, in a small high school, the school counselor may be known by all, but in a very large school, they may not. Is the school psychologist someone the students can seek out? Sometimes, students are afraid to reach out to teachers for the fear that they will tell their parents. This actually happened to me in high school; my school counselor called my mother after I told her about the abusive situation at home because my family was viewed as upstanding members of the community. Being clear about what the school's policy is on confidentiality and mandated reporting will help students decide what the right course of action is for them. Help students understand that school personnel are only available during school hours, so they need a plan for "after hours" care.
Encourage students to think of at least two people in their personal life that they could contact for help or to talk to. At least one of these people should be an adult, and none of them need to be people inside their house that they live with. In the age where we don't usually remember phone numbers anymore, ask students to find the phone numbers to those people and write them down. Prior to asking students to write these down it may be helpful to discuss what a trustworthy adult looks and sounds like in case using the word "trustworthy" feels too abstract for students.
Another option for home support would be a counselor that has been already providing support. Ideally, a counselor would have gone through this ecosystem of support with them already as part of their initial counseling sessions. The main role of counseling is to provide people the necessary tools they need to heal. A counselor's job isn't to "fix" a person, but rather help the counseled understand themselves and their struggles well enough to be able to determine the best way for them to help themselves. In a crisis situation, however, counselors are generally not available, although depending on the size of the counseling center may have counselors on call. Check with your local counseling center and know your counselor's hours and availability for calls. Sometimes, people will feel like they can count on their counselor exclusively. This should never be the case as not one person can be available at all times. If the most challenging moment is at 3am, there needs to be crisis counselors/people who can help because if that one person isn't available, by 4am that child could be in the danger zone. Knowing that there is an ecosystem of support available at any one time means that the only hero is the one who knows all their options for reaching out for support.
Where to Keep This Information
There are a few ways that this information can be provided to students, however, there should also be a way to provide the national and regional information to parents. Again, if parents say, "I didn't know who else to call" someone has dropped the ball. For students, here are a few ideas that could be helpful. A few of them cost money, however, this is important information and worth the price as just a small part of a more comprehensive mental health plan for students.
Presentation in Google Drive
One of the activities that I used to do with my students as an information study was a brochure on earthquake preparedness. This would be the same idea only as a presentation in their school drive that would be easily accessed from anywhere. Creating a 3-4 slide presentation with the aforementioned information and a few mindfulness strategies could be a resource that they would find helpful.
Luggage Tag for Backpack
Order inexpensive luggage tags in bulk for students and have them write (or print out) the numbers mentioned above. Tell them to attach the luggage tag to their backpack or any other item they carry. If luggage tags are out of the question, create and laminate a small card with at least the national and regional numbers. This card could be created and printed by Canva.
Custom Silicone Bracelets
Order green bracelets (mental health awareness) and have the 988 number printed on them.
Like the cards that could be created for the students, create posters to hang in hallways with the necessary information. Get a template to edit as your own in Canva below to get you started (must create a free account on Canva and sign in):
Many of our students know how to Google and we do our best to help them critically think through situations. However, when our mental health is impacted and we can't think how we would normally, sometimes it is outside of our capacity to find information on our own. Helping students (and adults for that matter) know that they have options for support when they need it and then being clear about how to contact those options is an important part of supporting them and ultimately destigmatizing mental health.
This list is not a be-all and end-all of support. Please do your research.
I am not a medical professional.
These suggestions should be one small part of a larger mental health initiative for students and educators.