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Unexpected Findings in School-Based Mental Health Programs: A Call for Context and Comprehensive Solutions

Mental Health Matters

Recently, a study found unexpected results regarding mental health programs in schools. Students who received training in mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) did not show improved mental health compared to their peers who did not participate. In some cases, their mental health even appeared to worsen temporarily. While headlines may suggest that such programs are ineffective, this conclusion misses crucial context.

The mental health of children and adolescents is a significant focus today. The U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning last year about the mental health crisis among youth, and the American Psychological Association (APA) has highlighted similar concerns. Additionally, a new book, "The Anxious Generation," has brought further attention to the rising anxiety among young people. These sources all seem to point the blame to technology as a contributing factor to the problem.

Given this context, dismissing mindfulness and other mental health education in schools is short-sighted.

As a licensed Master Social Worker, I know that understanding mental health requires considering the person within their environment. Factors such as financial instability, family loss, and daily stress cannot be separated from a student's experience of anxiety or depression. Social work teaches us that individuals are part of complex systems, and their well-being is influenced by multiple interconnected factors.

The "TikTok Effect" and Awareness

The study’s findings—that students reported more mental health symptoms after training—reflect what can be called the "TikTok effect." This term doesn't imply that TikTok itself causes mental health issues, but rather that increased awareness can initially seem negative. Before the training, students might not have had the language to describe their feelings. Post-training, they could better identify and articulate their emotions, which might be perceived as an increase in symptoms but actually indicates greater self-awareness.

Mental health experiences are highly individualized. One student might feel intense anxiety about public speaking, which they don't see as a disorder but still find distressing. The DSM-5 might not classify this as an official disorder, but the anxiety is real. Learning about mindfulness, CBT, and DBT helps students recognize and understand these feelings. It’s akin to noticing a paper cut only when using hand sanitizer—the awareness is there, but it’s not inherently negative.

Limitations of the Study and Broader Implications

The study focused solely on mindfulness and CBT training, which are only part of the broader toolkit for mental health. These methods are effective but not comprehensive solutions. Mindfulness, CBT, and DBT are tools, much like a saw in building a house—you can make progress with it, but you need more tools to complete the house. Similarly, these methods cannot replace the value of a therapeutic relationship with a mental health professional, who provides essential guidance and support.

The concern is that this study might lead to the defunding of mental health initiatives in schools. Policymakers might see the headline and conclude that these programs are ineffective, resulting in reduced support for students. However, evaluating the efficacy of these programs requires a comprehensive approach that considers the broader context of mental health.

Integrating Mindfulness into Digital Literacy

While the study questions the effectiveness of mindfulness, we cannot ignore the broader issue. If technology contributes to the mental health crisis, integrating mindfulness into digital literacy is a logical step. Our approach ties mindfulness into digital literacy, addressing the root causes identified by the Surgeon General, APA, and "The Anxious Generation." This comprehensive method ensures students are equipped to manage their mental health in a digital age.

For more information, you can check out our video about Mindfulness Online

How We Can Move Forward

To fully support our students, we need comprehensive mental health care reform, ensuring that students are heard and their needs are met. This means not just focusing on individual tools like mindfulness, but integrating them into a wider framework that includes digital literacy and support from mental health professionals.


The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt:

Our Take on The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt:


Author: Connor Cohen

Connor joined the Cyber Civics team in 2023 with experience in both social work and marketing. In 2020 he earned his LMSW in Texas where he worked as a therapist in a private practice. He made the switch from direct practice to marketing and worked with therapists to help market the profession and practice. Connor now works for Cyber Civics and Cyberwise. After earning his Bachelors's in English, Political Science, and Counseling from the University of North Texas, he went on to receive his Masters's in Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington. Continuing his studies, he earned a certificate in Digital Marketing from the University of Texas in 2022.


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