All schools have crisis plans―what to do in case of fire, tornado, or an intruder. SAIS recently reached out to school counselors and nurses asking, “Does your school have written policies, plans, or procedures for a student in a mental health crisis?” This might include who to call, chain of information, where to go, or external resources provided. Given that we received only a small number of responses to our inquiries, we are providing resources here to guide schools as they revisit their crisis and safety plans and consider how they might prepare for a mental health crisis in their school community.

School-Wide Considerations

The following resources offer guidance and information as schools develop their own mental health crisis plans.

The National Center for School Mental Health has developed the SHAPE system (School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation). This free, interactive tool is designed to help schools improve accountability, excellence, and sustainability in school mental health. The system provides strategic planning guides and a library of resources as well as screening and assessment tools. Also on the NCSMH website, you will find previous webinar recordings covering best practices in school mental health and guidance for developing a school mental health team

Erika’s Lighthouse, an organization dedicated to educating and raising awareness about adolescent depression, offers a planning continuum for schools.

  • School policy
  • Staff development
  • Classroom education
  • Educator support
  • Teen empowerment
  • Staff engagement

The Jed Foundation’s resource A Guide to Campus Mental Health Action Planning was written for higher ed, but has many applicable components for K-12 schools.

When a student is acutely distressed or suicidal, clear protocols should be in place to address the crisis. It is even more critical that all of the administrators and staff who have a role in addressing the needs and safety of the student and the campus community understand what actions they are expected to take.”

Tennessee has compiled a Comprehensive School-Based Mental Health Resource Guide. It includes a muti-tiered support model. This guide provides an implementation plan and several linked resources.

  • Tier I: Building a Foundation for Mental Wellness and Resilience for ALL Students
  • Tier II: Intervening Early to Address Mental Health Risks for SOME Students
  • Tier III: Providing Intensive Individualized Interventions for a FEW Students

Liberty Mutual shares this 7-step framework for K-12 schools from Cornell.

  1. Foster a healthy educational environment.
  2. Promote social connectedness and resilience.
  3. Promote help-seeking behaviors.
  4. Help identify students in need of care.
  5. Provide medical and mental health services.
  6. Deliver coordinated crisis management.
  7. Restrict access to means of suicide.

Preventing Suicide: Guidelines for Administrators and Crisis Teams National Association of School Psychologists
Guidance on assembling a crisis team, prevention measures, identification, and intervention

The Christensen Institute presents a different approach focusing on the student’s personal network in 5 Steps for Building & Strengthening Students’ Networks. This downloadable playbook includes reflection questions to drive both design and measurement, as well as prompts to identify strategies to implement with colleagues and students.

Pearson and K-12 Dive share 3 key mental health priorities for K-12 educators in 2023. Information here includes the new 988 suicide and crisis lifeline and recommendations from the Journal of the American Medical Association for universal screening for anxiety for all children ages 8 to 18.

  1. Addressing educator burnout
  2. Promoting social emotional learning
  3. Incorporating universal screening

Are schools the nation’s mental health providers? This EAB guide takes on that question and reviews four preventable barriers to student mental health with implementation plans to address each.

  1. Persistent stigma around mental health prevents referrals.
  2. Students in crisis are identified too late.
  3. Access to care is inconsistent and uncoordinated.
  4. Ineffective transitions hamper care management.

This guide on Navigating a Mental Health Crisis from the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides information on understanding a mental health crisis, medical and law enforcement response, treatment options, and how to be better prepared.

Training Opportunities

How might we better prepare our teachers to identify and respond to a possible mental health crisis?

Well-Being Information and Strategies for Educators Classroom WISE
This free, three-part training package assists K-12 educators and school staff in supporting the mental health of students in the classroom. Developed by the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network (MHTTC) in partnership with the National Center for School Mental Health, this package offers evidence-based strategies and skills to engage and support students experiencing adversity and distress.

What Educators Should Know Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

6 Reasons Why Mental Health Training for Educators is Critical [+ Resources] University of San Diego

  1. Mental health problems are common and often develop during childhood and adolescence.
  2. Student mental health issues impact the student and their peers.
  3. They are treatable.
  4. Creating a healthy learning environment is imperative for learning outcomes. 
  5. Early detection and intervention strategies work, and they can help improve resilience and the ability to succeed in school and life.
  6. Training helps educators protect their own mental health.

School Mental Health Teachers Training Guide Mental Health Literacy
This guide provides background knowledge about mental health, defining and describing symptoms of several common disorders and how to differentiate between each. This guide also shares what teachers can look for, who is most at risk, criteria for a diagnosis, and questions to ask. Just as CPR helps assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid helps assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-related crisis.

Classroom Education Erica’s Lighthouse
These lessons designed for grades 4-12 allow educators to empower their students with an introduction to mental health, depression-literacy, help-seeking, and what it takes to promote good mental health.

Templates and Tools to Document Plans for Individual Students

Carepatron defines a mental health crisis plan and includes a downloadable example. It includes warning signs, coping strategies, distractions, safe places, support system, and professional contacts.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ detailed Crisis Plan Template includes these prompts:

  • What I am like when I am feeling well
  • Early signs that I am not doing well
  • Ways that others can help me… what I can do to help myself
  • What has worked well with me… what has not worked well

Mental Health America’s Mental Health Month Toolkit offers a “Think Ahead” downloadable worksheet addressing things to look out for and actions to take.

The National Center for Healthy Safe Children provides a Safe Schools FIT Toolkit. With several resources and templates, this kit guides schools in planning, implementation, and sustaining an environment that supports mental health for students. Evidence based programs, strategic communications, and needs assessments are included.

This Crisis Safety Plan Assessment and Template from the Missouri Department of Health includes many of the elements offered in other templates, but also provides a place to assign a person responsible for each prevention step or interaction and includes notes on timing and duration of behaviors, actions, and interventions.

Marist School shares their Suicide Prevention Plan and Policy, Self-Injury Plan and Policy, and Disordered Eating Protocol as examples.

This sample shares school counseling protocol for incidences of physical, sexual, and substance abuse and self-harm.

Additional Resources

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the U.S. since 1949. Every year during the month of May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness joins the national movement to raise awareness about mental health. Goals include fighting the stigma of mental illness, providing support, educating the public, and advocating for policies that support the millions of people in the U.S. affected by mental illness. Many organizations assign a day in May for employees and students to wear green to show their support and raise awareness.

See where your state ranks on America’s School Mental Health Report Card. Spoiler alert: Most of us don’t make the top 10 or even the top 20. This report details current policies addressing school mental health professionals, teacher training, and mental health education and student statistics in each state. 

SAIS has collected additional mental health related resources for schools in the following categories:

  • School-Wide
  • Student Focused
  • Technology/Social Media Focused
  • Educator Focused