You may not have heard the term "whole person education" before but it recognizes the critical intersection of schools and a young person's behavioral health. When I was running youth behavioral health treatment programs, schools were a major part of raising awareness and advocating for help for many kids. I have seen schools of all types be excellent partners in supporting the principles of Mental Health Month for kids and families: Building toward recovery, wellness, and resilience, while combating stigma and discrimination.
Under the best of circumstances, behavioral health needs are a priority for the education field. From preschool to doctoral programs, schools are increasingly responsible for whole person care, ensuring the success and flourishing of students (as well as family, faculty, and staff) beyond grades.
This historically has been important, as early identification of needs enhances support and lifelong functioning. Many behavioral health conditions start manifesting early in life. For instance, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that “1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years (17.4%) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.”
Unfortunately, the CDC also notes that depression and anxiety have been increasing over time. In children aged 6 to 17, depression and anxiety “increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011–2012.”
With a global pandemic, school campuses have shut down, family members have lost jobs and not all students have access to technology to continue their studies. Kathleen Minke recently shared an opinion article emphasizing the reality of trauma experienced by kids and families during the pandemic. She provides some excellent practical suggestions on how schools can help.
What else can be done to support whole person education?
Social determinants of health are a cornerstone of whole person education
Schools have unique views into the lives of their students. As the CDC emphasizes, “social determinants of health” are hugely impactful for the behavioral health of students. For those not familiar, social determinants are environmental factors rather than biological/genetic influences of health. This includes such things as education level, literacy, financial status and history, trauma exposure, adverse childhood events, housing status and food access.
Schools often know more about social determinants and stressors than many of our most sophisticated health care systems! Schools, in many ways, are ahead of the game in recognizing the importance of whole person approaches for which I advocate in the health care space.
However, many of these insights are disconnected and locked away. Whole person analytics could help schools connect the dots between the data they possess to better identify needs of particular students and families who could benefit from proactive outreach and engagement. I’ve shared before how AI can identify high-risk individuals across health and public systems. I firmly believe this same approach can help the education field more effectively and efficiently serve its students, especially when resources are tight amid the COVID-19 crisis.
What are the next best actions to help students?
Knowing what students may need additional outreach is hard enough, but knowing how to support them next can be even more challenging, especially with the complexities of COVID-19. Analytics and AI can help suggest next best actions, with a long history of supporting decisions in the health care, public safety and government sectors. Again, with the recognition of the importance of more whole person approaches and data, education may be better off in getting started with this kind of proactive support.
Now, more than ever, schools are a critical part of coping with, recovering from, and building resiliency for pandemics and crises. With the core values of caring for the whole person, a central tenet of a liberal arts education, schools can also be beacons of hope that we can continue to grow, especially when challenged. Let’s use technology to empower education to cultivate that hope!