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Adolescent Mental Health: The School Nurse – Parent Connection

Adolescent mental health is critical to academic success. Mental health outcomes for adolescents are grounded in their social environments, including home and school. Building protective factors and minimizing risk factors is critical during this time.

Adolescents who perceive that they have good communication and are bonded with an adult are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (Resnick et al., 1997).  Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health revealed students who feel supported by their parents are less likely to experience emotional distress, practice unhealthy eating behaviors, consider or attempt suicide, or disengage from school and learning (Resnick et al., 1997).Through a successful school partnership, the school nurse can support parents build their teen’s resilience impacting their health, academic success, and long-term adult health outcomes (NASN, 2013).

Thirteen to twenty percent of children living in the United States experiences a mental disorder in any given year (CDC, 2013) affecting their ability to function at home, in school, or in the community.  School nurses report spending 33% of their time addressing student mental health issues (GAO, 2007; Stephan et al., 2007).  A key strategy for the school nurse to use to support positive health outcomes for adolescents is to connect, engage, and sustain engagement with parents.

“A critical competency of school nursing practice is assessment and screening for student health concerns,” says Nichole Bobo, MSN, RN, Director of Education at the National Association of School Nurses.  “School nurses have a substantial amount of interaction with students and their families, enabling them to develop meaningful and significant relationships.”

How can school nurses work to increase parent engagement around student mental health? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), school nurses and other support staff should make a positive connection with parents, provide a variety of activities and opportunities to engage parents, and work hard to sustain engagement by addressing common challenges and barriers to keeping parents connected (CDC, 2012).

Ways school nurses can connect with parents on mental health include:

  • Use school assessments to ask parents about their needs and interests regarding the health of their children and how they would like to be involved in the school’s health activities, services, and programs.
  • Work with school administrators to put policies and procedures in place to maximize parent engagement in school health activities.
  • Establish school health activities that address the interests of parents, such as student wellness seminars.

Ways schools nurses can engage parents on mental health include:

  • Offer or collaborate with community organizations to provide parent education classes on depression, suicide prevention, and student resiliency.
  • Provide parents with information on the same mental health topics they  are exploring with students.
  • Provide and promote school-sponsored mental health resources at local libraries and community centers and other locations where local families spend time.

Ways school nurses can sustain parent engagement on mental health include:

  • Invite parents to be part of the school decision making process through parent teacher organizations, school health council, or other organization.
  • Work with teachers to develop family-based education strategies that involve parents in discussions about health topics with their children. For example, homework assignments that involve parent participation and health promotion projects in the community.
  • Use a variety of methods to communicate with parents from phone calls and school events to newsletters, report cards, websites, and emails.

Mental health is critical to the academic success of any student; parents are a necessary component in reducing mental health risks through building protective factors for adolescents; and school nurses and supporting school staffs are in a unique position to support parents promote positive mental health for their child.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012).  Parent engagement: Strategies for involving parents in school health. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  

Government Accountability Office. (2007). School mental health:  Role of substance abuse and mental health services administration and factors affecting service provision (GAO-08019R).  Washington, D.C.:  Author.

National Association of School Nurses.  (2013).  Position statement – Mental health of students.  Silver Spring, MD:  Author.

Resnick, M., et al. (1997).  Protecting adolescents from harm:  Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health.  Journal of the American Medical Association, 278(10), 823-832.

Stephan, S., Weist, M., Kataoka, S., Adelsheim, S., & Mills, C. (2007).  Transformation of children’s mental health services:  The role of school mental health.  Psychiatric Services, 58, 1330-1338.