Back2Basics: mental health building blocks for learning
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There is mental health crisis affecting America’s children and youth and a significant gap exists between professional knowledge and the practical application of prevention and intervention strategies for this population. Since children spend a significant portion of their waking hours in school settings, applying mental health programming within educational contexts is a logical concept. However, with such a significant need for mental health services, neither the US healthcare system nor school systems are able to keep up in providing adequate support for struggling children (Blackman et al., 2016; Franz et al., 2016; Merikangas et al., 2010; Merikangas et al., 2011; Torio et al., 2015). As holistic healthcare practitioners with a rich history in mental health, school-based occupational therapy practitioners are in a particularly advantageous position to address psychosocial issues in children and youth and are considered qualified professionals when it comes to providing both universal and targeted mental health supports for students in California Public Schools (AOTA, 2014; California Department of Education, 2012). However, several barriers pose challenges to this model of practice, and school occupational therapy practitioners rarely focus on social emotional factors (Barnes et al., 2003). This limited focus also results in misperceptions of the role and scope of occupational therapy practice, particularly as it relates to mental health (Cahill & Egan, 2017; Henderson et al, 2005; Pottebaum & Svinarich, 2005; Smith & Mackenzie, 2011). So, although schools struggle to provide adequate mental health services for at-risk students, occupational therapy practitioners are not invited to the table when it comes to discussing school-based mental health interventions or initiatives (Cahill & Egan, 2017; California Department of Education, 2012; Chan et al., 2017; Henderson et al., 2015). In order to reinforce the role and capacity of occupational therapy practitioners and educators in the promotion of positive mental health and social emotional well-being in students, a program is needed to support school-based practitioners in providing effective mental health interventions. Back2Basics aims to do this by supporting school occupational therapy practitioners’ knowledge and confidence in mental health service provision, facilitating enhanced collaborative relationships between occupational therapy practitioners and school staff and providing an evidence-based framework for teachers and administrators to create school environments and educational programming that supports the psychosocial needs of their students (Ryan & Deci, 2017). As such, the program being proposed has been aptly named Back2Basics to represent its focus on practical interventions intended to fulfill the foundational components of psychosocial health and well-being.
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