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Are Counselors Enough? Supporting Students’ Mental Health in Nebraska Public Schools

Andrea Klug Johnson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Using 54 interviews from 24 Nebraska Public Schools (NPS), this study examines how schools vary in their mental health support of students. I find NPS educators’ conceptualization of mental health is viewed through the Whole Child framework which considers students’ social emotional development as integral to their academic development. Educators colloquially used the term “mental health” to mean mental wellness, mental illness, and mental distress, and most conceptualize student mental health aligning with mental distress. Next, I use Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model as a framework for examining various student mental health stressors, barriers, and support structures. Overwhelmingly, teachers identified students’ family situations as primary stressors. In contrast, their approach towards providing support to students relied heavily on school- and classroom-level initiatives. Additionally, findings suggest school context shapes educators’ view of student mental health barriers and support structures. Whereas educators at high-SES schools identified rapid student population growth as a barrier to mental health support, those at low-SES schools identified insufficient supply of qualified personnel, suggesting a disjuncture between demand and supply of counselors and teachers at the community level. Additionally, teachers at high-SES schools viewed overbearing parents as a key stressor for their students, whereas those at low-SES schools pointed towards poverty and racial/ethnic discrimination by external community members. Finally, this study also revealed that student mental health support systems differ by school types. Among high-SES schools, those in urban areas support students’ mental health by relying on available community funding, while those in rural areas try to support students’ mental health by building a family-like culture within the school community. In contrast, among low-SES schools, those in urban areas rely on reinforcing school rules and behavioral norms and connecting students to community resources, but those in rural areas teach students resilience and try to connect them with institutions of higher education. This suggests that high-SES schools focus on internal, communal solutions, whereas low-SES schools place responsibility on individuals and external entities.

Subject Area

Sociology

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Andrea Klug, "Are Counselors Enough? Supporting Students’ Mental Health in Nebraska Public Schools" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI29323414.
https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI29323414

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