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What Integrated Mental Health Supports Look Like

Josh Acocella-Stollerman

The mental health needs of adolescents have increased, especially since the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. Students diagnosed with developmental differences, such as autism and ADHD, as well as emotional issues, including anxiety and depression, are at a higher risk for developing severe mental health problems. They have an increased need for consistent, individualized mental health support. This impacts Franklin Academy’s student population in a significant way, as the vast majority of our students have developmental differences as well as comorbid anxiety and depression. Many of our students also have unique learning profiles and executive functioning challenges. Students at Franklin Academy, while not requiring a “therapeutic placement,” do benefit from robust therapeutic support.

Franklin Academy first meets this need by using a community-based, collaborative, and student-focused approach. First, Franklin employs licensed counselors to provide individual and group therapy to address the unique needs of each student. The school’s counselors and residential staff also run the Individual & Community Program (I&C) that teaches, generalizes, and reinforces many of the self-regulation, social, and adaptive life skills for our neurodivergent students. This sets them up for success in college, careers, and in social settings throughout their adult lives. While Franklin Academy counselors lead mental health programming, all staff are trained to intervene and generalize learned skills with our students.

A second piece of support is The Wellness Center at Franklin Academy, which utilizes a collaborative approach to working with our students. A strong relationship with our students and their families and caregivers is the foundation of our mission to provide meaningful mental health services. Franklin Academy’s counselors meet regularly for consultation, supervision, and professional development so they can effectively meet the mental health needs of our students. They can also work hand in hand with a student’s home mental health providers (e.g., counselor, psychiatrist, coach, etc.). Under the umbrella of the Wellness Center is the Health Center. Having the Health Center and the counselors together allows for collaboration between mental and physical health staff and the development of holistic interventions. In addition, speech and language services, occupational therapy, and psychiatric medication management all work within the campus wellness center, ensuring that all treatment providers share a unified conceptualization of each student.

The final component is Franklin Academy’s Evaluation Center, which ensures that every student here receives a flexible, strength-based evaluation to understand their functioning, ensure appropriate supports and accommodations, and prepare for the future.

Our approach is intentionally student-focused. All of our students have strengths and interests that can be identified and developed to provide hope and meaning that our students may have struggled to find in other settings. We work with students to build a positive sense of self that looks beyond their challenges. Accurate education around the unique and amazing strengths that are often observed in individuals with diagnoses such as Autism and ADHD, is an important part of demystifying and destigmatizing mental health needs. We also teach about the cultural and societal factors that contribute to the anxiety and depression that often accompany developmental differences and learning disabilities. We aim to provide the skills and insights necessary to navigate the adult path students begin to forge here at Franklin Academy.

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