How Madison schools plan to monitor student mental health this fall

MADISON, Wis. — Schools often play the role of a safe space for students to find support for concerns about mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or even thoughts about suicide. News 3 Now This Morning sat down with leaders at the Madison Metropolitan School District to hear how they’re planning to keep kids safe while they’re at home this fall.

Leah: “We know that schools act as a safe space for students – but with an online start to the year, what is the district doing to keep students safe?”

Jay Affeldt, Executive Director of Student and Staff Support: “We’ve been thinking about this for months now. The schoolyear starts with a focus on relationships and building strong communities. We want our students to feel safe and a true sense of belonging – and this year that’s more true than ever. We know our virtual spaces won’t be the same, but we believe we can build strong relationships and connections a community in our virtual spaces.

“COVID has resulted in stress for all of us – and when you combine the stress with other mental health concerns or other sources of distress like race based trauma… it becomes critical that we provide a full range of support.

“An example of that was with racial trauma over the course of the summer. Our coaches provided affinity spaces to process that – helping, again, leverage strong existing relationships in virtual spaces to process and heal.”

Leah: “The director of the CDC had said in a recent interview with an institute that suicide rates among teens are increasing. Is A) this a trend you’re seeing a B) something you’re also worried about?”

Jay: “Obviously given that we’re acknowledging the high levels of stress, it’s logical to expect there would be an uptick.

“Our district uses a program that screens web activity for anything that involves self-harm, bullying or other threats. It’s a simple web filter so that whenever they’re on their district devices, that software will trigger if they see something that’s concerning. Our therapists will look for context of what that included and, when needed, alert our district team so we can intervene.

“That data would provide us a pretty true measure of an uptick, and we haven’t seen an uptick in the course of the summer. Some of that can include that it’s summer and students are perhaps on their devices less but we feel we have a strong support system to be proactive and intervene when a student is feeling those things.”