Making Mental Health a Centerpiece of the Return to School

Tue, 08/31/2021 – 13:38

By Danna Mauch, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, and Sharon Shapiro, Trustee and Community Liaison for the Ruderman Family Foundation

As the delta variant reignites deep concerns around COVID-19 and leaders have yet to settle on clear health protection protocols for schools, the upcoming school year is fraught with mental health-related sensitivities for a second straight year. Anxiety and depression, uncertainties about the future, grief related to loss, isolation, addiction, and other challenges mean that mental health must be a centerpiece of the return to school, not a footnote.

The U.S. Department of Education has acted accordingly, releasing a “Return to School Roadmap” on August 2 as, in the department’s words, a “resource to support students, schools, educators, and communities as they prepare to return to safe, healthy, in-person learning this fall.” 

First, the administration has distributed $122 billion through the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and recipients may use those resources to address many needs, including “the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of all students.” Part of this funding can be used to hire more counselors in schools.

Second, amid the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on low-income communities, the administration has included mental health services within its plan to address the needs of students experiencing homelessness. It is important to recognize that social determinants of mental health related to economic security have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, such as rising rates of food insecurity (reportedly doubled in Massachusetts) and housing insecurity. 

It is incumbent upon schools and school systems nationwide to also center their approaches to the coming year around the issue of mental health. Essentially, students’ well-being means everything — why else do schools exist? This means that in addition to taking straightforward steps like using the federal and state funds at their disposal to hire more counselors and other personnel, schools need to determine sophisticated and strategic initiatives surrounding the all-encompassing issue of students’ mental health. 

“This is the Time to Lead with Mental Health and Equity in Mind,” a recent report authored by the Brookline Center for Community Mental Health’s BRYT program in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, provides a framework for such initiatives. Describing the pandemic as a “slow-moving collective trauma experience with both immediate and long-term implications for the mental health of students, parents, and school staff,” the report suggests a comprehensive approach to care for the well-being of the whole school community at different levels of need: universal, supplemental, and intensive.

It has been difficult for school and district leaders to keep mental health and equity at the center of their work during the pandemic in light of real and perceived pressures around academics and COVID-19 prevention. Even in a pandemic, opportunities for transformation abound if we are willing to take them.

Additionally, simply prescribing “self-care” is not effective as a solution to the current mental health crisis. Adults in school need time and support to engage in meaningful and sustained efforts to stay well — which is accomplished through districts and schools attending to collective care and personal connection among adults, who can then attend to the same needs among students.

In terms of specific steps that prioritize mental health in the return to school, the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health and the Ruderman Family Foundation would recommend fostering connection with and among students; ensuring predictability to the greatest degree possible; enabling agency and decision-making on students’ part whenever possible; engaging all school personnel, not only counselors, as trusted sources of support for students; and modeling moderation in expectations, assignments, and assessments, including in educator workloads.

Additional action steps could include creating an individualized approach for students, who are returning to the classroom from different places emotionally and academically; offering mental health support for families, not just students; and instituting new rituals and routines that support emotional needs.

The delta variant has reminded us once again that COVID-19 is a long game and the return to school is no different. This could very well be the new normal for the start of each academic year for the foreseeable future. That is why schools must act now to institutionalize a more comprehensive approach to mental health, designing policies and practices that will benefit schools, students, and parents for years to come.

Danna Mauch, PhD is President and CEO of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health. Sharon Shapiro is a Trustee and Community Liaison for the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Gunshot Victim
Life Threatening Wounds
Physical Assault Victim
Severely Injured Auto Accident Victim
Burn Victim
Choking & Breathing Obstructions
and more…


Child Sex Assault Victim
Domestic Violence Victim
Drug Overdose
Rape/Sex Crime Victim
Suicide Watch
Trafficking Victim
Nervous Breakdown
and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer/Graphics Training
  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
  • Hospitality Training
  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
  • Violence De-Escalation Training
  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
  • Meal Prep

Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: