School Mental Health

The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is celebrating 25 years in policy and research. We have collaborated with many partners to bring about real-world solutions in our communities. As a university-wide, multidisciplinary research and outreach unit, we are committed to addressing complex issues by linking academic research, stakeholder perspectives, and practical experience through innovative and creative solutions.

A primary focus is addressing the need for mental health support in schools through enhancing educators' ability to identify and respond to mental health needs, mental health provider availability, establishment of policies and practices that support students and families, and additional professional development such as psychological first aid for schools.

Here’s a highlight of some of the work that has resulted from these partnerships:

Mental Health Awareness Training

The Public Policy Center has been awarded a Mental Health Awareness Training grant from SAMHSA which started December 2022. This four-year grant will capitalize on the position of local schools to meet the mental health needs of Nebraska students in grades K-12, by training educators in the evidence-based intervention of Psychological First Aid for Schools (PFA-S). PFA-S is designed for delivery in school settings by school staff, and includes components related to identifying students with mental health issues, mental health promotion, and appropriately responding to crises (including de-escalation). Over the course of the project, 1,250 Nebraska educators will be trained. This project is a partnership between the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, the Nebraska Department of Education, and Nebraska’s Regional Behavioral Health Authorities. Learn More about Psychological First Aid for schools trainings at

School Mental Health Project

The School Mental Health Project involves training staff at regional organizations, including Nebraska’s Educational Service Units and Morningstar Counseling, which then hold training for educators from districts and schools in their areas that choose to take part. The goal is that they will return to their home schools and implement elements of Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems, an evidence-based model.

The Nebraska Department of Education is working with the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center to measure the impact of the training and implementation launched in September 2021. Jennifer Farley, senior research manager at the PPC, said the evaluation results have been promising, showing that the program met participating schools’ needs. Some current impacts include:

  • 752 educators received training from 15 regional organizations (ESUs and Morningstar Counseling). 
  • 62 school districts implemented CSMHS during the 2022-23 school year, which involved 134 training sessions with 7,000 educators, students, parents, and community partners and implementing over 200 new tiered supports to serve over 15,700 students.
  • Interviews and focus group participants expressed enthusiastic buy-in from educators and improved school culture surrounding mental health.

Read more in this Nebraska Today article.

Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education

The Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) project, jointly undertaken by the Nebraska Department of Education and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Division of Behavioral Health, is made possible through Nebraska's AWARE-SEA grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The AWARE project aims to improve schools’ ability to identify and respond to student mental health needs. The project has expanded schools' capacity to support students, enhanced professional development for school faculty and staff related to student well-being and character development, and established policies and practices that support students and families. It has also helped schools address the high level of mental and behavioral health needs of school-aged children in rural schools, including depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, and trauma.

The PPC serves as the evaluator for Nebraska’s Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) project, which works to improve mental health supports in schools through provider partnerships, training, student screening and referral, and workforce development efforts. Nebraska’s AWARE project began in three school districts: Chadron, Hastings, and South Sioux City, and has expanded to Lexington, Nebraska City, and Valentine. Learn more about AWARE at