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Incorporating Physical Activity in Mental Health Intervention Service Delivery: School Psychologists’ Perspectives

Epidemiological data posits that youth in the United States (US) experience significant mental health concerns. Approximately 10% of youth meet criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnoses (Danielson, Bitsko, Ghandour, Holbrook, & Blumberg, 2018) and approximately 7% of youth have a behavioral conduct problem or anxiety (Ghandour et al., 2018). Literature continues to suggest that physical activity is a viable modality in supporting the mental health of youth (e.g., Ahn & Fedewa, 2011; Annesi, 2005; Biddle et al., 2018). While it is recommended that youth achieve one hour of physical activity daily (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee [PAGC], 2018), nearly 75% of youth are not meeting these standards. Further, trends suggest that physical education time in school continues to decrease (Physical Activity National Plan Alliance, 2016). In light of school psychologists’ professional commitment to supporting the health and wellness of students (National Association of School Psychologists [NASP], 2010; Ysseldyke et al., 2006), coupled with the growing literature base of interventions and models of service delivery to promote mental health with physical activity (e.g., Fedewa, Ahn, & Erwin, 2013; Greenspan, Fefer, Whitcomb, & Kemp, 2019), such a modality may be well-suited to incorporate in existing school mental health interventions. This study seeks to explore school psychologists’ perspectives of using physical activity as a mechanism to support the mental health of students. In doing so, the author conducted a series of focus groups with elementary level school psychologists. Questions centered on processes of implementation to understand facilitators and barriers to physical activity-based interventions (e.g., Bertram, Blasen, & Fixsen, 2015). Analytically, this study employed a grounded theory approach (e.g., Corbin & Strauss, 2015) to yield themes that provide insight into the intersection of school psychology and physical activity and further shine light on directions for future intervention development research. Results suggest that when school and district leaders prioritize using physical activity to promote mental health that can then foster the development of systemic and concrete structures, data collection and data-based decision-making efforts, and, in turn effective and targeted interventions and treatment.