Skip to main content
Site Logo

Hello, you are using an old browser that's unsafe and no longer supported. Please consider updating your browser to a newer version, or downloading a modern browser.

Supporting Students

School & University Professionals

Student mental health advocates

On the frontline of protecting students’ mental health, school and university staff are often the first to notice when a young person’s behavior is shifting. It is important to educate yourself and others to recognize the early signs of psychosis and the best pathway of treatment.

Early psychosis & how you can help

School staff are often in near daily contact with students and may be the first to notice that something with one of those students does not seem right. The subtlety of outward changes makes it challenging, even as trained professionals, to know when a young person may be experiencing symptoms of psychosis.

Being aware of the signs and the resources that are available for you can help to more efficiently identify early issues and lessen duration of untreated psychosis with appropriate connections to care.

Overview of psychosis

According to a CDC report tracking U.S. children’s mental disorders between 2005-2011, the number of students with significant psychiatric disabilities has been steadily rising. This includes young people with a recent onset of psychosis. Because early psychosis symptoms often mimic other mental health issues, it may go undetected, delaying quality treatment. Early identification and intervention of mental health issues is essential.

Read More +
Close Content Wrap

A staggering one in five teens experiences a mental health condition and half of all lifetime cases of these conditions begin by the age of 14, 75% by age 24. This is especially true for those experiencing psychosis, which affects about 100,000 youth and young adults each year. What’s important to know is that psychosis is treatable, especially when it is identified early.

Overview of early psychosis

Psychosis is a symptom, not a disorder. Early psychosis can overlap with anxiety or depression, as well as with normal hormonal shifts typical to the experience of teens and young adults. Learning the common symptoms associated with psychosis can help you to identify when to refer a student to a First Episode Psychosis Center. HeadsUp can provide helpful screening tools and training to support school and university staff identify the signs of psychosis.

Read More +
Close Content Wrap


Voices or auditory hallucinations

Hearing single or multiple voices, which can be simple or complex, abusive, neutral or soothing. They may hear whispers or clear/distinct voices; they may describe changes in their hearing acuity (e.g., hearing things from another room); they may describe indistinct or clear noises or sounds (e.g., buzzing/ringing) which are new and/or distressing. They may tell you directly that they are experiencing these perceptions, or you may notice cues in their behavior such as: they may appear to be talking to themselves, looking somewhere and you don’t know why, or focusing on certain body parts.


Tactile or somatic sensations or hallucinations

Body sensations or feelings that are new and strange. These are sometimes described as electrical charges or feeling something crawling on a body part. People sometimes feel that a part of their body has changed in some significant and troublesome way (e.g., bigger/smaller).


Unusual or delusional thinking

Persistent beliefs not shared by others. A student may report thinking other people are watching them or that they are under surveillance, feeling very good at certain tasks, having a connection to a famous person, or any number of thoughts that are different and unusual. They sometimes report that television, music or other media are communicating directly to them. You may also notice that a student is pulling away in social situations, seems uneasy with others, or makes comments indicating suspiciousness about others’ intentions.

Depersonalization and/or Derealization

Feeling they are an outside observer of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Examples are feeling that their speech or movements are uncontrollable or controlled by outside forces, that parts of their body are distorted, or feel their memories are not their own. They may feel alienated from their surroundings, or disconnected from people (as if they were separated by a glass wall). Their surroundings may seem distorted, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial and they may have misperceptions of time and space.


Cognitive disorganization

A student’s speech and writing may become disorganized and/or tangential. They may draw connections between words or terms that seem illogical or non-sensical, or they may have more difficulty than usual following conversations. Slowing of speech, movement and motivation. A young person may demonstrate changes in the amount, tone, rate, pitch, or rhythm of speech. Psychosis may slow people down and significantly lower one’s motivational energy.


Depression and demoralization

Many individuals with psychosis experience significant depression and/or demoralization.


A student with psychosis may experience all or only a few of the above symptoms. The intensity and impact of symptoms can also vary enormously from one individual to another. If a student shares that they are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is important to connect them to a First Episode Psychosis Center.

Tools for initial engagement

The tone of initial engagement should be considerate, kind and flexible. Keep in mind the goal is to establish trust and make the student feel safe to express their experiences and specific concerns.

Read More +
Close Content Wrap

The tone of initial engagement should be considerate, kind and flexible. Keep in mind the goal is to establish trust and make the student feel safe to express their experiences and specific concerns.

  • Begin with broad, open-ended questions, using follow-up questions that reflect the student’s own language. “How are you feeling?” versus “You seem like you are feeling scared” “I hear that you are feeling nervous that others are talking about you when you walk into the room.”
  • Avoid potentially triggering and frightening language. Unless otherwise indicated by the student, avoid clinical language.
  • Stay positive, using hopeful, reassuring language. The experience of psychosis can often be scary and difficult to describe.
  • Normalize the experiences without undermining their significance. Students will often identify unusual experiences which can be in response to many things such as changes in sleep, drug use, and stress; a student experiencing psychosis symptoms will not necessarily go on to develop a psychotic disorder. It is best to connect to a First Episode Psychosis Center early to help identify the best pathway to recovery.

Gently explore the idea of contacting the student’s loved one(s). Inquire if the student has already expressed their struggles with their caregivers or family members. If not, gently ask the student if communicating with a loved one may be helpful. To retain the trust between you and the student, try not to force them to disclose to their loved one unless it is an emergency.

Accommodations for students

There are programs and plans in place to protect students with their learning while they may be receiving treatment at one of our centers.

Read More +
Close Content Wrap


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with psychiatric illnesses receive free and appropriate public education services specific to their individual needs. A student eligible for an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) under IDEA must have a disabling condition that interferes with the student’s educational progress, and the disability must require instruction beyond what a typical teacher and classroom experience would be expected to provide. The educational requirements under IDEA can be altered and qualifying students can receive accommodations and modifications to make effective progress given the disability. An IEP is often implemented for students experiencing psychosis whose symptoms, such as paranoia or hallucinations, either interfere with or are worsened by regular classroom situations.


RTI “Response to Intervention”

RTI plans can sometimes be offered at schools for students with psychosis if a sudden deterioration in symptoms occurs. These plans offer more immediate redress of circumstances within the educational arena that may be contributing to the symptoms. Students with psychosis symptoms could receive an RTI plan in conjunction with a more thorough mental health evaluation


Transitions from Hospital to School Plan

Hospitalization may be required for some students experiencing psychosis. Schools should work to implement a collaborative transition plan for the student’s return to school. Creating a transition plan takes a great deal of thought and should begin as soon as the school is notified that the student is absent due to hospitalization. Developing a partnership among the family, providers, and school clinicians while the student is being treated can help ease the student’s transition back to school.


(Adapted from Schiffman, J., Hoover, S., Roemer, C.,Redman, S., and Bostic, J. (2018). Supporting Students Experiencing Early Psychosis in Middle School and High School. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.)

Reducing stigma in schools

Delays in getting care are often fueled by stigma surrounding serious mental illness. School leaders can help minimize these feelings of personal shame through fostering inclusivity.

Read More +
Close Content Wrap

All school staff members should be trained on the concepts of implicit bias, stigma, and importance of language (such as avoiding stigmatizing words like“crazy” or “psychotic”). School staff members should maintain a positive, shame-free environment to help uplift the safety of all students. This security opens more carefree pathways for trust and disclosure to educators regarding mental health concerns they might have about themselves or their peers. School staff set the tone around mental health awareness. They can formally provide learning resources for students and parents that includes normalizing and hopeful language about psychosis.

Your role in early intervention

Significant Federal investments in early psychosis intervention have provided an opportunity for educational institutions to partner with clinical programs, increasing on-site support for students with significant psychiatric disabilities. With recovery in mind, together we can ensure today’s students are better positioned to assume professional pathways, lead mental health funding and policy, and break down the stigma associated with psychosis.

Recovery and hope

Recovery should be the expectation. Early identification and reduction in the length of time between when symptoms first begin and treatment is important. If you notice a student experiencing any of the symptoms as described above, reach out to your local FEP Center or HeadsUp for more information.

Read More +
Close Content Wrap

The care received at an FEP (First Episode Psychosis) Center is designed with each individual in mind and involves many types of trained, caring people who will collaborate with the individual and their family to plan a path towards recovery.

Coordinated Specialty Care: A Treatment Team

Our programs typically offer a team of people who will help. Each program is a little different but will often include:

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy to help build personal skills of resiliency, management, and coping.

Supported Employment & Education Assistance

Help continuing to engage in or adjust to school and work goals while receiving care.

Medication Management

If necessary, finding the best medication at the lowest possible dose.

Peer Support

Guidance from those currently on their own recovery path.

Case Management

Skills and support to organize the practical issues presented during treatment. This includes communication with other team members.

Family Support and Education

Tools designed to keep family members engaged and informed.

Avenues of collaboration with HeadsUp

Please reach out to HeadsUp to:

o Facilitate referrals to PA FEP Centers (or help directing non-PA students to care)

o Provide education and training for you/your team on the mental health needs of your student population

o Collaborate, using your facilities and outreach platforms, to promote the availability of mental health supports

o Connect to helpful screening tools and training available to help school staff identify the signs of psychosis

Resources for School Professionals

HeadsUp Tip Sheet for School Professionals

School and University Early Psychosis Tip Sheet

HeadsUp Insert for School Professionals

Insert for School Professionals

“A Look Inside Early Psychosis Care in Pennsylvania”

At a PA FEP (First Episode Psychosis) center, treatment is designed with each individual in mind and involves many types of trained, caring professionals who will work with each person on a plan of recovery. The Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) model is a comprehensive and team-based model, emphasizing hope, empowerment, and collaborative management of care. Watch this short video to learn more.

Video Link

NAMI Mental Health College Guide

This guide was made to help students navigate some of the life changes that come with heading off to college.

NAMI College Guide

Back to School: Toolkits to Support the Full Inclusion of Students with Early Psychosis in Higher Education

“This Back to School Toolkit was developed and reviewed by a team including: current and former students with personal experience of early psychosis while in college; family members and specialty early intervention in psychosis (EIP) program clinicians and staff; and a campus mental health attorney.”

Toolkit Geared Towards Students and Families

Supporting College Students: Mental Health and Disability in Higher Education

Supporting College Students

Flowchart for Early Psychosis Screening: for School and University Mental Health & Medical Staff

A tool developed for School and University Mental Health & Medical Staff to help identify individuals who may be experiencing symptoms of early psychosis and suggestions for pathways to care.

Flowchart for Schools

HeadsUp Animated Video “What is Coordinated Specialty Care?”

A brief educational video from HeadsUp about Coordinated Specialty Care which is the type of care someone receives at a Pennsylvania First Episode Psychosis (FEP) Center.  It is available for use to help spread information about psychosis to those who may need support.

What is Coordinated Specialty Care?

HeadsUp Animated “What is Psychosis Video”

A simple, short educational video to use and share.

"What is Psychosis?" Video

HeadsUp Navigating a Mental Health Crisis Insert

Navigating a Crisis Insert

Availability and Accessibility of Coordinated Specialty Care in HHS Region 3

“Availability and Accessibility of Coordinated Specialty Care in HHS Region 3” is a video developed with the Central East Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) in collaboration with HeadsUp. It is geared towards secondary school professionals and highlights the availability and accessibility of Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) in US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Region 3 (Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Washington DC, Virginia, & West Virginia).

Video Link

Myth vs. Fact on Serious Mental Health

Serious Mental Health Advisor addresses some of the many myths around serious mental illness (SMI) that are not accurate.

Myth vs. Fact on Serious Mental Health

Students with Psychosis

“Students With Psychosis offers 28+ hours of programming each week available at no cost to students and advocates globally. Over 75% of SWP leadership is from the lived experience perspective. It is their mission to empower student leaders and advocates worldwide through community building and collaboration.”

Students with Psychosis

“I Am Not a Monster” TEDx Talk

“Cecilia McGough puts a face to schizophrenia and helps empower college students through the upcoming non-profit Students With Schizophrenia.”

"I Am Not a Monster"

Strong 365

“Through online education, 24/7 peer support & connection to specialized care across the U.S., their goal is to shorten the path to quality mental health support for young people. Backed by One Mind and built by a team of wellness warriors who know what it’s like to struggle, they are here to support you as you tap into your own strength.”



Mind Apps-Health Index & Navigation Database

“There are an estimated ten thousand mental health apps available today, offering a range of possibilities from connection with a clinicain to symptom monitoring. Apps can be useful in care, but it’s important to be cautious about choosing a suitable app. The goal of this database is to equip users with the information necessary to make a decision based on the app characteristics that matter most to them.”



Provided by the National Institutes of Health this document highlights the history and important milestones of the early intervention model (providing effective care within the first few months of illness) for young people with schizophrenia. Now a national mental health care priority, Coordinated Speciality Care (CSC) enhances work and school participation and supports recovery.

Milestones for Coordinated Specialty Care for Early Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia Information in Different Languages

Provided by the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society, information about schizophrenia in different languages.

Schizophrenia Information in Different Languages