University of Utah’s Comprehensive Approach to Support Adolescent Wellbeing

This blog is part of a series featuring the game-changing initiatives of our Healthy People, Healthy Communities grant partners.

University of Utah’s Comprehensive Approach to Support Adolescent Wellbeing
There is too much stigma and not enough resources when it comes to approaching adolescent mental health.  A team in Utah is looking to break through these barriers and redefine well-being for all students at school, at home, and in the community.  They are having some exciting results as they put students front and center in helping to redefine school-based mental health services.

A Comprehensive Approach to Supporting Adolescent Wellbeing in School
The University of Utah and Salt Lake School District collaborate to provide mental health services and wellbeing initiatives to support local schools working to close opportunity gaps for high-need students.

What is the Wellbeing Team?
The Wellbeing Team (WBT) stems from a collaboration between the University of Utah and two middle schools in Salt Lake City School District, Bryant Middle School and the Salt Lake Center for Science Education. The WBT provides mental health supports for the schools through schoolwide efforts, targeted interventions, and individual therapy. Since its inception, the WBT has worked to collaborate meaningfully with the teachers, administration, and support staff of both schools to help create a safe school environment through equitable practices. 

Why is the Wellbeing Team Important?
While students are in school, we hope that they are learning about Math, Science, English, and Social Studies. We hope that they learn the skills they need to be successful as they move up from elementary to middle school, high school, and beyond. However, being a successful student takes more than learning about the common core. Students need to be in the classroom, rather than the office, they need to learn skills to manage their emotions to help them stay engaged in the classroom and feel safe and supported at school.

When a student receives a punishment of going to the office, often known as an Office Disciplinary Referral, they miss out on critical classroom content. This means that students who get in trouble often learn less, perform worse on standardized tests, and are more likely to drop out of school. One way to help prevent students from getting Office Disciplinary Referrals is to have a positive school culture, meaning teachers believe in their students, help them learn, and encourage them to use skills in the classroom to manage their attention and emotions.

How Has the Wellbeing Team Made Positive Change?
Schoolwide: The WBT at Bryant Middle School has helped support a positive climate by working with teachers, the principal and vice principal, and counselors. By working together over the 2018-2019 school year, the number of Office Disciplinary Referrals slowly went down over the course of the year. This means students were in the classroom and learning more often!

Group Therapy: Small group sessions were provided to students experiencing stress and anxiety to increase emotional awareness and improve stress management. Students discussed their experiences, learned new strategies, and practiced them within a supportive peer group. Students who completed these groups endorsed greater psychological flexibility and mindfulness.

Individual Therapy: Students were able to receive one-on-one individual services for addressing a variety of concerns (e.g., depression, trauma, social relationships, familial conflict).  Providing school-based individual therapy bridged students who reported higher mental health needs with easily accessible services. Of all the students who received individual therapy, 95% of them endorsed that they would recommend the WBT to a friend. The graphs below depict student responses to an individual therapy feedback survey.

For more information on the work they are doing please go to University of Utah's Technology in Training, Education, and Consultation lab website.