Registered, professional school nurses serve a vital role in promoting positive mental health outcomes in students. Positive mental health is as critical to academic success as physical well-being. As members of interdisciplinary teams, school nurses collaborate with school personnel, community healthcare professionals, students, and families in the assessment, identification, intervention, referral, and follow-up of children in need of mental health services. School nurses, because of their regular access to students, are uniquely qualified to identify students with potential mental health concerns.
Schools and school nurses have an essential role in addressing mental health concerns, promoting mental health wellness and social-emotional competencies, enhancing protective factors, and referring to and collaborating with mental health providers.
Mental health concerns and diagnoses that school-age children commonly experience include, but are not limited to, attention deficit hyperactivity, depression, bipolar diagnosis, anxiety, panic response, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
School nurses are in a unique position to play an active role in mental wellness promotion, and early intervention programs. The CDC notes that schools are one of the most efficient systems for reaching children and youth to provide health services and programs. School nurses are educated to identify somatic complaints and co-occurring behavioral health concerns. Thus, school nurses are often a student’s first point of entry into mental health services. School nurses are also part of the normal school experience and are easily accessible to students seeking assistance with mental health issues.
As integral members of school mental health service teams, school nurses are familiar with and educated to recognize warning signs such as changes in school performance, mood changes, complaints of illness before or during the school day, problems at home, and self-harm.
School nurses promote student success by participating in the implementation of Section 504 plans, and the health-related areas of the Special Education Individual Education Program (IEP). With these plans in place, the school nurse can assist in the re-entry of students into the school environment following homebound instruction or hospitalization.
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