- At Taos High School in New Mexico, seniors lead an emotional intelligence retreat for freshman students as a way to welcome them and assure them they're not alone during their high school years, according to The Hechinger Report. It's an eight-year tradition in a district where, on top of the typical stressors high school brings, nearly 83% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-priced lunch — another factor that can be difficult to deal with.
- School administrators are starting to realize they are responsible not just for educating students, but also for addressing their social and emotional needs, said Jessica Hoffman, a research scientist and the director of high school initiatives at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Fourteen states now have social-emotional learning goals for K-12 students, according to the Center for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
- At the same time, students are saying school climate is an important part of their mental and emotional health.“We care for each other and we’ll get through it together,” Taos high school senior Angel Martinez told Hechinger.
About one in five youths in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 18 experience a severe mental health disorder at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And oftentimes, talking about these issues is hard — especially to people who aren't their age. Working off this theory, many peer model programs work to eliminate any perceived stigma around mental health and increase students' confidence in finding support in others. And with suicides increasing among this age group, Sources of Strength and other programs work to empower students and help prevent this from taking place.
Studies have shown that these initiatives are doing good. For example, a 2010 American Public Journal of Health study found that youth trained in Sources of Strength were four times more likely than untrained peer leaders to refer a suicidal friend to an adult.
When it comes to suicide and other mental health conditions, Peer-to-Peer uses the peer advocate method to educate high schoolers about depression and teach them effective methods to convey the knowledge and reduce stigma. Peer groups work in teams and do activities such as presenting at school assemblies, raising awareness about suicide, and providing a confidential way for students to express concerns about other students’ moods and behaviors.
Joan Cook, a psychologist and associate professor at Yale University who researches traumatic stress and clinically treats combat veterans, believes student-led mental health groups and peer services are valuable, but that they should not replace formal mental health services. Instead, he said, the two groups should collaborate. Administrators are tasked with working to bring sufficient mental health counselors, supports and education to their districts and schools and by encouraging peer support models. Combined, the two can help engage and help those who are emotionally struggling in getting the care they need.