School-based Mental Health
Schools are a key public health context given their universal access to youth aged 6 to at least 16 through compulsory education laws. Increasingly, schools recognize the importance of promoting social emotional learning and mental health and wellness through formalized school programming and curriculum. There is also greater focus on the adverse childhood events (ACEs) that many school-aged youth have endured and the impacts of trauma on student functioning. Such awareness has given traction to prevention and intervention efforts that are trauma-informed and provide youth with tools to avoid or respond to unhealthy relationships with adults and peers. Educators are also looking more closely at the contexts they provide to youth. Unfortunately, data continue to reflect disparities in academic and behavioral outcomes based on race and ethnicity; a most troubling phenomena is the high rates of exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspending or expelling) among Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native youth. Thus, there is a national movement toward the promotion of more positive school climates that are engaging for diverse students. Faculty in the department engage in research touching upon each of these areas and include areas such as development and testing of behavioral, social emotional, and trauma-informed interventions. Research focuses on universal programs and practices, but also more targeted and intensive interventions (e.g., where youth with identified disabilities are the focus). A range of outcomes are of interest to the faculty, spanning the promotion of positive outcomes (e.g., prosocial behaviors, student wellness, academic achievement) and preventing negative outcomes (e.g., aggression, bullying, sexual abuse, substance use, depression, suicidality, anxiety).
Our Work in Action
Dr. Elise Pas is leading a developmental study, where she is working in partnership with a local school district to develop social emotional learning and wellness content, blended with Restorative Practices, for high school students in a study funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. In the 2020-21 school year, the district implemented weekly student wellness sessions for which she developed content – she discussed this study in an interview led by the district.
Our Work in Action
Dr. Tamar Mendelson is leading Project POWER (Promoting Options for Wellness and Emotion Regulation), which is a randomized controlled trial testing the mental health and academic impacts of a trauma-informed prevention program for 8th graders as compared with a health education active control condition. Students are assessed at post-intervention, 3-month follow up, and the following year in 9th grade and the research design and methods are described here.
Centers and Institutes
Elise T. Pas, PhD, MA, develops and tests school-based preventive interventions focused on social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes.
Tamar Mendelson, PhD, MA, addresses the development, evaluation & dissemination of prevention strategies to improve adolescence mental health in underserved urban populations.
Holly Wilcox, PhD '03, MS, uses research to advance public health approaches to suicide prevention, including policies, early intervention, and chain of care approaches.