Building Community Resilience: Healthcare workers and Educators Addressing and Reducing Trauma (HEART) Collective

By Taylor Bryan Turner, SAMHSA Region One Assistant Regional Administrator, and Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support

The collective trauma we are enduring with the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent racial injustice, and violence in our nation’s capital and around the country, has led communities to come together to address youth and family mental health, demonstrating community resilience. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Region One Office, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Region One Office, and the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) have collaborated to help schools and healthcare centers in New England better support resilience and well-being for staff, students, and their families through the Healthcare workers and Educators Addressing and Reducing Trauma (HEART) Collective. The HEART Collective is sharing how powerful community resilience-building efforts can be in improving the mental health of all community members.

Community Resilience in Action in New England

The Community Resilience Model (CRM), an evidence-based framework for helping communities understand and address trauma, has shown promise in helping communities reduce the negative impacts of trauma (Citron, 2013). Read more about how communities are using this framework to train teachers, parents, healthcare workers, justice department officials, and other community members to recognize the signs and effects of trauma, practice stress-reduction techniques to calm the nervous system, and make environmental changes to prevent trauma in the future. The key to the success of the CRM is that all community members are invited to be a part of the process of healing trauma.

Compassionate School Mental Health Model

The New England MHTTC’s Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC) has been using a similar, school-focused approach to community wellness called the Compassionate School Mental Health Model (CSMHM). We ask schools to work together with healthcare centers, community organizations, families, and other stakeholders to address childhood trauma through:

  • Prevention: Reducing the Causes at the home, community, and school levels.
  • Supporting Youth by identifying those most at risk of mental health challenges, referring those in need to supports, and delivering universal programming to address trauma and mental health.
  • Building Resiliency by increasing social emotional skills and agency, as well as empowering and uplifting the voices of students and their families.
  • Developing Protective Factors by fostering nurturing adults that create compassionate environments.

Fellows in the C-TLC have used this model to build school communities that were able to collectively address the challenges of COVID-19 by banding together to quickly provide food, online learning supports like WiFi and laptops, and mental health services to the most vulnerable families facing increased hardship. Schools—often underfunded and understaffed—struggle to meet the many needs of students, especially students who have experienced trauma, on their own. When they are able to leverage the resources of others in the community, they are better able to meet the needs of students and staff.

Furthering the Message of Community Resilience Through the HEART Collective

The HEART Collective hopes to further intentional access to mental health for all students. Schools can be the foundation of compassion, community resilience, and encouragement. They are often safe havens, sanctuaries, and sometimes temporary shelters.

For some children, schools are the windows of the world. In order to aid children in their growth as leaders and inclusive members of society, we must provide a safe space to nurture mental health, and overcome traumatic experiences and learning challenges. The HEART Collective is particularly concerned about the mental health of youth and educators physically returning to an in-person school setting after enduring for most, the first pandemic of their lives. Children remain in an isolated environment due to mandated remote learning and have been unusually distant from their peers, their favorite teachers, and other social supports. In particular, we want to uplift those families for whom the trauma of COVID-19 has dramatically exacerbated racial disparities,  socio-economic oppression, and the overwhelming loss of family members who have succumbed to the novel coronavirus.

Prior to the pandemic, children who were physically in attendance were sometimes absent from receiving appropriate, needed mental health supports. Since the pandemic, we know that at-home learning has caused increased absences and alarming withdrawal rates.

HEART Collective’s Plans for Community Action

Today, with renewed energy and hope, HEART aims to use this time wisely to prepare for the return of resilient communities and create programming that will help to rebuild healthy hearts and healthy minds after a hiatus from their social hubs. HEART believes that meaningful relationships, inclusive programming, and compassionate conversations can lead to student success. We are excited to unveil five deliverables:

  • HEART Collective Compassionate Conversations, where Collective members will come together to learn about staff wellness practices and share challenges and successes around efforts to promote positive well-being in their schools and health care centers.
  • HEART Collective Tip Sheets, including Best Practices for Collaboration, Addressing Possible Barriers to Collaboration, a Glossary of Mental Health Terms, and Ways to Support Advocacy for Educators, Parents, and Students. 
  • HEART Learning Collaborative, which will begin in June 2021. We believe that learning from all community members, especially families, will be the secret sauce to success. We will work with several schools, healthcare centers, families, and students to enhance collaborations around school-based mental health and wellness. Please check back here in April for an application to join the HEART Learning Collaborative.
  • HEART Public Health Campaign and Website, which will be built alongside our HEART Learning Collaborative.  As we learn from each other, we would like to effectively promote best practices for new and existing collaborations and partnerships.
  • HEART HealthEKnowledge Course, which we will develop at the close of the HEART Learning Collaborative, synthesizing lessons learned and best practices for these collaborations around school-based mental health in a self-directed, online course to enhance collaborations for schools and healthcare centers around the nation.

Forming Collective Partnerships to Promote Community Resilience

According to the most recent National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data, 56.4% of 1.6 million young adults with serious mental illness (SMI) received treatment in 2019 and 43.6% received none. There are many variables as to why this may be. While we may not have all the answers, HEART works to ensure that access, affordability, and apprehension to accept treatment, are not the reasons families are unable to obtain mental health care and reduce trauma at an early age.

One of the things that we hope to accomplish with the Office of Health Resources Services Administration’s (HRSA) federally qualified health centers is to integrate children’s mental health services within public schools. This will increase access to care in a centralized and trusted location. HEART’s principles align well with SAMHSA’s Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) model, a person-centered program aimed to increase access to community-based mental health and substance use disorder recovery. Our goal at HEART is to ensure that mental health and trauma reduction become foundational in children centered safehouses. We recognize that schools are often the hubs for communities and believe that all schools can be physically and emotionally equipped to support our children holistically.  

If we are able to provide adequate and affordable mental health care for children while in grade school, the gains in reducing trauma and diminishing suicidal ideology are also great. Data tells us that the vast increase of anxiety and depression due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic attributed by uncertainty, isolation, and loss will linger for years to come (Taquet et al., 2020). The HEART Collective works to encourage schools to become safe havens for mental health. 

Our programs are designed to:

  • Be inclusive of all parents and guardians, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, or criminality; 
  • Provide youth with  tools to advocate for their needs; 
  • Empower youth to participate in decision-making policies that impact their lives; and
  • Provide incentives for student contributions, such as: obtaining letters of recommendation, offer resume building sessions, and the opportunity to spearhead a student-led working group that will offer camaraderie and enhance compassion.

Mental health is heart health. Healthcare workers and educators of the HEART Collective are committed to reducing trauma and providing mental health support that should be as easy to access in schools as pencils and highlighters.

References

Citron, S. (2013). Final CRM innovation evaluation report. Trauma Resource Institute. 

Taquet, M., Luciano, S., Geddes, J.R., & Harrison, P.J. (2020). Bidirectional associations between COVID-19 and psychiatrist disorder: Retrospective cohort studies of 62,354 COVID-19 cases in the USA. The Lancet. 

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). (2020). 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases.

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