Parents Uncertain Schools Can Help with Chronic Diseases, Mental Health Problems

Only 38% of parents are very confident that school staff can help a student with a suspected mental health problem.

During school hours, parents entrust their children to school personnel. Whether a child is in elementary or high school, staff are expected to be able to respond to a health crisis with swiftness. Many schools require teachers to be trained on how to respond to an asthma attack and how to approach more delicate issues, including anxiety and depression.

However, the CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health indicates that parents may lack confidence that school staff can respond to chronic diseases or mental health problems children may be facing.

While 77% of parents are certain that schools can provide adequate first aid, parents are much less sure that schools can handle more complex health problems.

“Parents feel schools can handle basic first aid, but are less sure about urgent health situations such as an asthma attack, epileptic seizure, or serious allergic reaction,” said co-director of the poll Sarah Clark, MPH. “And they have the most uncertainty around whether schools can identify and assist a student with a mental health problem.”

According to the poll, only 38% of parents are very confident in their school’s ability to help children with a suspected mental health problem.

“One of the challenges of addressing mental health is that there are so many facets,” Clark said. “At the elementary level, this might include prolonged sadness, anger management problems, or undiagnosed ADHD. For older students, it may be anxiety about college entrance tests, a problem with drug use, or suicidal thoughts.”

Parents with middle or high school aged children responded that school counselors would be the best equipped personnel to help with mental health problems.

However, the authors note that the demands of a large caseload may make it difficult for counselors to form relationships and identify students who may have a mental health problem, according to the study.

“Parents may want to learn more about how their child’s school works to identify and support students struggling with mental health issues, and advocate for increased resources if needed,” Clark said.

Parents indicated that school nurses would be the best staff to perform basic first aid and respond to urgent health conditions.

The authors found that 3 in 5 parents think there is a full-time nurse at the school during the week. These respondents also indicated more confidence in the school to respond to health and safety problems, according to the study.

However, the authors said that few schools have a full-time nurse on staff. Assuming that a nurse is always available to respond to emergency health situations—such as administering medication or calling an ambulance—may leave certain students vulnerable, according to the study.

“Parents of children with special health needs should work directly with school personnel to understand the onsite availability of school nurses, and to ensure non-medical staff are prepared to handle urgent health-related situations that may arise during the school day,” Clark concluded.