Nurses Groups Partner to Better Address Students’ Mental Health Issues

A new partnership between the American Psychiatric Nurses Association and the National Association of Schools Nurses hopes to enhance school nurses’ ability to address children’s mental health issues.

One-in-five children has had a seriously debilitating mental illness, according to a statement from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. And school nurses frequently are on the front lines. “It’s often the nurse at school who picks up on mental health and substance abuse issues,” said APNA President Kris McLoughlin, DNP, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN.

To better equip school nurses to identify and respond to students’ mental health issues, APNA has teamed up with the National Association of School Nurses. Through the partnership, NASN members can take an online continuing-education certificate program that APNA developed to give nurses the evidence-based knowledge and skills they need to provide safe, cost-effective, patient-centered care to schoolchildren with psychiatric and mental health needs.

The APNA Transitions in Practice Certificate Program was created with the understanding that nurses everywhere increasingly provide care to people with mental health disorders. It covers therapeutic engagement, psychiatric-mental health disorders, psychopharmacology, risk assessments, addictions, co-morbid disorders, recovery, and therapeutic environment.

A position paper APNA recently released notes that 75 percent of chronic mental health conditions begin by age 24, yet the delay between the first appearance of symptoms and intervention is an average of almost a decade. As with many serious problems, the longer the delay in intervention, the harder the condition is to stabilize, and if school nurses can identify problems sooner, maybe that delay won’t be so long, McLoughlin said. “If school nurses can identify some of the key warning signs and make interventions earlier rather than later, that’s really important,” she said.

According to a 2016 position paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics, one-in-ten children and adolescents has a mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment, but only about 12 percent of children in need of mental health services actually receive them in any given year.

This partnership between the two associations stresses prevention and early intervention and treatment. “Solidifying a strategic alliance made sense,” McLoughlin said.

APNA’s theme for the year is “whole health begins with mental health,” so the association has been putting mental health in the forefront—when, historically, it has been secondary, McLoughlin said. “If we’re going to work to have a culture of health, we need to add this to the mix.”

School nurses spend about 32 percent of their time providing mental health services, according to NASN’s whitepaper “The Case for School Nursing” [PDF].

“With this new partnership, our two organizations further the dissemination of important evidence-based practices across nursing specialties,” said McLoughlin in the press release. “As nurses we well know that care is not provided in silos, and so we must work together to ensure that all populations receive the best possible holistic nursing care.”

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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