Nearly 200 South Jersey education professionals came together in a day-long summit here on Feb. 28 to address mental health needs of students.
Held at the Camden County Boathouse, the School Mental Health Summit featured experts from the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine and Rutgers School of Health Professions Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions Department and Cooper Health.
The aim was to collaborate with educators to build the foundation for vital comprehensive school mental health services, which include screening, early intervention and treatment.
“Recently our district has seen an increase in the number of students that have had significant trauma in their young lives. We are allocating resources to provide professional development for our staff to create a trauma-sensitive environment for students. We also hired a part-time consultant to provide teachers with support in dealing with children that exhibit challenging behaviors and emotions as a result of trauma in the home. Our intention is to continue this work in the upcoming school year by expanding our program,” said Dr. Brenda Harring, superintendent of Waterford Township School District in Camden County.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Ninety percent of those who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death. In New Jersey, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24.
“Mental health and physical health are one and the same. The summit allowed us to directly connect local school leaders with national experts and resources to support mental health service delivery to students in our schools. Moving forward, we intend to continue supporting our colleagues as they begin to implement mental health services in their districts,” says Daniel Del Vecchio, superintendent of Camden County Educational Services Commission.
Ann Murphy, associate professor at Rutgers and director of the Northeast and Caribbean Mental Health Technology Center (MHTTC), one of ten regional centers created nationwide to bring evidence-based research and new approaches to mental health care, helped to lead this summit and one for Northern Jersey educators last year.
“Student mental health concerns have increasingly become something that school teachers, administrators, and staff need to address. Schools have seen the change in student needs over the years, but they need support and professional development to be able to adequately address them,” said Murphy.
N.J. Governor Phil Murphy recently announced new initiatives to support youth mental health. The Department of Human Services will work in partnership with the National Council of Behavioral Health to conduct statewide mental health first-aid trainings for school personnel from K-12 and higher education institutions, while the Department of Education will lead a statewide youth mental health working group to develop resources, including best practices for school and mental health provider connections to support student needs.
The event was sponsored by CM3, Cradlepoint, Garrison Architects, RFP Solutions, Inc. and W.J. Gross, Incorporated.