Effects of mental health training series on school nurse knowledge, preparedness and practice for youth mental health
The prevalence of psychological disorders has increased among school-aged youth over the past two decades. Schools offer unparalleled access to youth and have the potential to effectively address the interrelated academic, emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs of students. Despite the growth of school-based mental health programming, less than half of youth in need of mental health services receive any intervention. School nurses are an underused resource in school-based mental health teams. The current study sought to increase access to school-based mental health care by addressing the training needs and barriers to mental health practice expressed by a sample of school nurses from the Central Texas area. A novel webinar-based mental health training program was designed and implemented over the 2018-2019 school year. Using a quasi-experimental design, this study explored the impact of the webinar series on mental health related knowledge, practice, attitude, barriers, and preparedness level to engage in mental health practice using a sample of local school nurses (N = 78) from a Central Texas school district and a control condition of school nurses (N = 58) from multiple school districts within the same region. School nurses who participated in the webinar series showed significant increases in reported preparedness level to engage in mental health related practices and mental health knowledge from the beginning to the end of the school year. Webinar participation did not significantly change nurses’ attitudes toward mental illness, number of reported mental health practices, or number of reported barriers to practice over the course of the school year. After webinar participation, school nurse reported preparedness levels were found to be a significant predictor of the number of endorsed mental health practices. Stigmatizing attitudes and reported barriers to mental health related practice did not predict the number of mental health practices endorsed by webinar participating school nurses at the end of the school year. This study demonstrated the feasibility of an entirely remote mental health training series for school nurses created under a unique collaboration between a hospital and local school district. Adaptations to the training format, inclusion of validated measures, and greater focus on broader organizational factors may help increase the effect of the training program on mental health practice.