Mental Health/Social-Emotional Well-Being

Children sitting in a circle in the school library listening to a teacher reading to them.
The term ‘mental health’ refers to how we think, feel and behave; it is a critical part of our overall health. Current rates of mental illness, substance misuse and opioid abuse are alarming and require significant societal shifts. Mental health prevention is now recognized as a critical part of education, but schools struggle with how to establish a comprehensive system of mental health support. The Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) is an emerging approach for building a single system to address mental health and social-emotional well-being in schools.

How to Address Mental Health in Schools

Education and mental health leaders understand the need to establish one system of social-emotional and behavioral supports in schools. The Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) is a way to blend PBIS with mental health supports in schools. This framework guides state, district, and community leaders to fund and modify policies and procedures to help every system work more efficiently. Clinicians – supported by integrated district structures – become part of multi-tiered school teams to address the social-emotional and behavior needs of all students. ISF expands the PBIS framework as a way to assist teams and enhance their efforts.

Why Use the Interconnected Systems Framework to Address Mental Health in Schools?

Using an interconnected framework allows schools:

  • Identify students with mental health needs earlier
  • Link students to evidence-based interventions
  • Use data to ensure students receiving support improve
  • Expand roles for clinicians to support school personnel and students at every tier
  • Create healthier school environments

Foundational Elements of the Interconnected Systems Framework

There are four foundational elements to describe an integrated approach for addressing mental health and social-emotional well-being in schools

  • A single system of delivery
  • All students need access to mental health support
  • Student impact defines success
  • Core features of Multi-tiered  

Single System of Delivery

It is important to have one set of teams with a focus and the decision-making authority to make structural changes and work more efficiently. These integrated teams ensure:

  • School-level and community-based mental health personnel participate in the design, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based mental health programs and practices at every tier.
  • There is consistency across the state, district and schools with similar cross-system teams.  
  • Specialized roles work together to focus on prevention efforts and use evidence-based programs at every tier using data from school and community systems.

All Students Need Access to Mental Health Support

Mental health support is provided for every student. Social-emotional and behavioral skills are taught by all staff, across all settings, and embedded in all curricula. Examples are used to explicitly teach desired behaviors in various situations/contexts in school. Schools use data to ensure there is a plan to ensure core social-emotional and behavioral competencies are the focus of programs at each tier. For example, if a large number of students report stress and anxiety, coping skills should be included in Tier 1 programs.

Student Impact Defines Success

The team measures the success of its implementation by tracking fidelity and monitoring positive outcomes for students and their families. For this reason, goals should be specific and describe exact improvements you want to see. When programs don’t achieve desired outcomes, teams make adjustments or implement new programs.

Use MTSS Core Features to Guide Implementation

ISF is always implemented and aligned with core features of the MTSS framework.

  • Representative teams comprised of all stakeholders including families, and students.
  • A continuum of evidence-based interventions linked across tiers.
  • Data used to make decisions at every tier.
  • A formal process for selecting and implementing evidence-based practices.
  • Comprehensive screening allows for early access to interventions.
  • Progress monitoring for both fidelity and effectiveness
  • Ongoing professional development and coaching to guide implementation.  

Addressing Mental Health/Social-Emotional Well-Being in a Tiered Framework

A school’s behavioral health program works best when its implemented within a tiered framework.

Tier 1

At Tier 1, an integrated team of school and community clinicians focus on the social-emotional and behavioral needs of all students. Data at this level include universal screening for both internalizing and externalizing concerns. are used to select evidence-based interventions within a continuum.  

Tier 2

At this tier, those who have concerns follow a process to submit a request for assistance. Teams work to connect students to a range of targeted, group-based interventions. Clinicians coordinate and facilitate a continuum of supports to address social skills, problem-solving skills, and coping skills; including for those students who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and the impact of trauma.

Tier 3

At Tier 3, clinicians coordinate individual interventions selected by the systems team. Teams monitor fidelity data and the interventions’ impact, regardless of who implements the intervention. Ongoing coaching, including professional development and technical assistance is provided.

Getting Started

The Interconnected Systems Framework 201 briefly describes the core features of ISF and includes some ideas for how to get started in school settings.

Establish One Set of Integrated Teams

Leadership teams are key to implementing this kind of framework. However, too many teams decreases a systems ability to work efficiently. Look for opportunities to expand or merge existing teams with similar goals.

Use Data to Assess Current Mental Health and PBIS Systems

The integrated team should review relevant school and community data to determine which approaches will meet the needs of all students. In reviewing data, the team should establish measurable goals that include mental health outcomes. Reviewing data prior to the start of the school year helps teams strengthen school-wide prevention efforts.

Identify an Integrated Screening Process

Districts are encouraged to adopt a structured and comprehensive universal screening process to catch internalizing and externalizing student needs. Rather than creating a separate process for measuring mental health needs, an integrated screening process looks for early indicators of anxiety, depression, and impact from traumatic life experience. All school personnel should be trained on how to recognize mental health challenges and what to do if they’re concerned.

Allocate Professional Development Resources

District leadership should develop a training and coaching plan to increase the number of school personnel with social-emotional and behavior expertise and to ensure everyone has an understanding of their role within the interconnected system.


There are many resources available on this website to support implementing the interconnected systems framework. We recommend starting with these:

Advancing Education Effectiveness: Interconnecting School Mental Health and PBIS

This monograph describes the Interconnected Systems Framework and offers the benefits and challenges associated with its implementation.

Teaching Social-Emotional Competencies within a PBIS Framework

This evaluation brief describes how school personnel can teach social-emotional competencies within a PBIS framework to support systematic, school-wide implementation through a single system instead of competing initiatives. Included are recommendations for how to adjust the PBIS framework to support instruction of these competencies.

See More/Less


Resources in this section include assessments, blueprints, examples, and materials to aid in implementing PBIS.


Publications listed below include every eBook, monograph, brief, and guide written by the PBIS Technical Assistance Center.


Presentations about their experiences, published research, and best practices from recent sessions, webinars, and trainings


Recordings here include keynotes and presentations about PBIS concepts as well tips for implementation.