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Young minds may need unconventional mental health support

NEXUS is working to help address the mental health needs of our youth

We’re expanding the mental health community beyond traditional mental health stakeholders to include those with lived experience, case managers, law enforcement officers, prison administrators, parents, community center volunteers, and school tutors, to name a few. This diverse group is driving a new discussion on how to better address the unmet mental health needs of women, youth, and those within the justice system.

What sets us apart from other respected and effective mental health initiatives is our groundbreaking collaborations, real-world insights, and new mental health research. We’re also examining mental health best practices in individual communities to evaluate how best to use them for the greatest impact on the unmet needs of our 3 key groups.

The NEXUS team wants to raise the bar in youths’ mental health, focusing on critical junctures to move them from hopeless to hopeful.


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The gap in youth mental health

Support for youth with mental health issues in transition

Transitioning into a new school or starting school can be a critical moment in youth development, particularly for youth with a history of mental health issues. For youth with mental health issues, moving schools can be a trigger.

Though teachers can be central in a youth’s transition to a new school, there may be a broader group of school and home stakeholders that could be effective in ensuring a youth’s success. Teachers can be valuable resources with firsthand knowledge of a youth’s experience in a new school, but they may not always be available or equipped to support a youth’s mental health.

NEXUS is working with a broader group of stakeholders, such as school administrators, school nurses, and guidance counselors, to supplement the support of teachers.


More than 80% of children 6 to 17 years old diagnosed with mental health issues went untreated.1


In an online survey, only 28% of 292 early childhood and elementary school teachers felt that they had the knowledge required to address the mental health needs of children.2

In the same survey, 276 teachers reported on what they felt their schools’ mental health support lacked: adequate parent support programs (67%), prevention programs for students with externalizing behavior (62%), prevention programs for students with internalizing behavior (61%), and staff training and coaching (51%).2

Students with mental health issues transitioning into college: early action

At home, students may have relied on their parents to make mental healthcare decisions for them, but in college, they may find themselves unprepared to take on their own mental health needs.

Mental healthcare in colleges and universities is often limited to only crisis management—with support coming too late. Students will not necessarily self-identify or understand their own mental health issues.

Through unique collaborations with counselors, peers, student/youth advocates, and colleges and universities, NEXUS is seeking out strategies to improve students’ mental health literacy to help them self-identify and seek out help early and more often.

Youth mental health issues could be reduced by up to 52% through early intervention.3

A proactive approach to mental health support may be more helpful to youth rather than acting at the moment of crisis.

Additional mental health support in schools: Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

IEPs may be centered on the needs of children with learning disabilities. Mental health issues may not fall under this construct.

NEXUS stakeholders want to work toward supplementing the effective support channel of IEPs with mental health support.

We want to make mental health a key consideration in the IEP process, encouraging feedback from all stakeholders on how to advocate for the comprehensive mental health needs of the child.

School child gazing for help

NEXUS guiding principles:

Identifying effective solutions for unmet mental health needs in youth

The current gaps in youth mental health support include:

  • Lack of available support for youth who are starting or moving to a new school. Youth may need a broader support system, beyond teachers
  • Students transitioning into college may not understand their own mental health issues, lacking the ability to self-identify. The only mental health resource at a school may be crisis management, which may come too late
  • Currently, IEPs are structured to address traditional learning disabilities and may not account for the mental health needs of children

The specific unmet needs of youth with mental health issues can be common among the other NEXUS areas of focus: women and individuals within the justice system.

NEXUS research and real-world insights have incited passionate debates, uncovering the guiding principles for how we can address the mental health challenges facing these 3 groups at critical junctures in their lives.

How NEXUS guiding principles apply to youth:

  • two hands handshake

    Warm Handoffs

    Development of a shared language or vocabulary related to youth mental health may help to ensure effective handoffs between youth stakeholders, such as school administrators, school nurses, and guidance counselors.

  • peer support

    Peer Support

    Peer support may be valuable in providing guidance during critical transitions, such as moving schools.

  • gender signs

    Gender & Age Differences

    Collaborating to find new gender- and age-specific solutions may be effective in addressing disparities in mental health support for boys and girls.

  • clipboard checklist


    Comprehensive screening processes with risk assessment tools may be helpful for managing serious mental health issues and putting a treatment plan in place.

  • alarm clock

    Early Intervention

    When observing youth with mental health issues, it can be valuable to recognize the age of onset and trajectory of the mental health issue rather than the condition.


1. Kataoka SH, Zhang L, Wells KB. Unmet need for mental health care among U.S. children: variation by ethnicity and insurance status. Am J Psychiatry. 2002;159(9):1548-1555. 2. Reinke WM, Stormont M, Herman KC, Puri R, Goel N. Supporting children’s mental health in schools: teacher perceptions of needs, roles, and barriers. Sch Psychol Q. 2011;26(1):1-13. 3. Fowler D, Hodgekins J, Howells L, et al. Can targeted early intervention improve functional recovery in psychosis? A historical control evaluation of the effectiveness of different models of early intervention service provision in Norfolk 1998–2007. Early Interv Psychiatry. 2009;3:282-288. 4. World Health Organization. Gender and women’s mental health. Accessed: February 12, 2020. 5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Jailing people with mental illness. 2019. Accessed: February 12, 2020.