How Can a School Nurse Help Your Child with Mental Illness?

Mental health is as critical to a student’s academic success as is their physical health.  School nurses serve a key role in the school setting by promoting positive mental health in all students.  School nurses provide empathy, compassion and develop positive relationships with all students and especially those with mental illness.  School nurses collaborate with administrators, teachers, parents, families, and health care professionals in identifying those students at risk for mental illness. The school nurse health room is often identified by many students with mental illness as a “safe zone” or a place where there is little pressure or stress.  It is often in the health room where students with mental illness feel most comfortable talking about their triggers and stressors.

As a parent of a child with mental illness, you have a very important job of providing the school nurse with “what works” and “what does not work” with your child.  Please provide the school nurse with the following information:

  • Child’s mental illness diagnosis.Child sitting by a brick wall with the words help painted on the brick
  • Identified triggers that could cause the child to have a meltdown or become
    agitated or sad.
  • Identified interventions that help the child to calm down and recover from a meltdown.
  • Current medication list. The school nurse will assess for potential side effects
    of psychotropic medications and provide training to staff.
  • Length of time student has been taking medication, including severe side
    effects that may have been noted in the past.
  • Emergency contact list.

School nurse goals for students with a mental illness diagnosis include but may not be limited to:

  • Provide frequent “check-in’s” with the student to ensure that the student is maintaining a positive experience at school and to build rapport with the student.
  • Communicate with parent and family members about any new triggers that may have caused the student to have meltdowns at school.
  • Ensure that psychotropic medication taken at school is administered as prescribed.
  • Monitor student for potential side effects from psychotropic medications.
  • Train staff about psychotropic medications, including possible side effects

If your child experiences a mental illness crisis during the school year, please notify the school nurse.  Proactive communication concerning your child will ensure the best and most supportive care while he/she is at school.

For more information, please refer to:

National Institute of Mental Health: Children and Mental Health - Is This Just a Stage? brochure

Candyce Kepler, BSN, RN