Schools are sounding the alarm about a growing mental health crisis for America’s children.
The national survey published Wednesday by Effective School Solutions, an organization that implements mental health care in schools, found that the nation’s school administrators, parents and students continue to battle a youth mental health crisis. Almost all administrators (90%) and almost 60% of parents reported that the crisis is growing. Approximately 60% of administrators say youth mental health remains the same or has worsened compared to a year ago.
“In the midst of the isolation and trauma of COVID-19, this degradation has only gotten worse,” says Duncan Young, executive director of Effective School Solutions. “It is very likely that the echoes and traumas of the pandemic will persist in the mental health of young people long after the pandemic is behind us, which speaks to the urgent need for better solutions for our children.”
The survey of 200 school administrators and 1,000 parents with children in kindergarten through grade twelve was conducted in the fall.
The survey found that addressing early mental health in schools is difficult, and educators say they face challenges with staffing and funding. COVID relief funds have helped address school districts’ mental health challenges, but they are likely to expire in the next few years, Young says. He calls attention to the need for more sustained funding for school districts to continue to prioritize mental health care.
“Soon, districts will be largely left on their own to maintain the additional support that is still needed,” says Young. “We cannot afford to go backwards. Our children and their future depend on it.”
The survey further found that 40% of parents and 50% of educators are concerned that schools are understaffed to address student needs, including mental health; more than 80% of parents believe that schools should play a role in treating young people’s mental health; administrators who say they do not have information on funding resources for mental health programs exceeds 50%. Forty percent of administrators report a high level of confidence that their school is adequately addressing youth mental health compared to 16% of parents.
Mental health care in schools removes the responsibility of parents to address mental health issues solely at home, Young says, especially since kids spend most of their time within the confines of a classroom. . Mental health care that works includes different behavioral interventions for people with diverse needs. Individual, group and family therapy can occur during a student’s school day, for example, Young says. Effective School Solutions partners with districts to embed this programming directly into the school day.
“It serves as recurring mental health care, as an elective integrated into the student’s schedule,” he says.
Being educated about what to look for is the place to start. Young provides the following acronym, in his own words, to help parents and administrators identify the signs and symptoms of a potential mental health problem: SIGECAPS
- S= To sleep disturbance, such as a student who is falling asleep in class, excessively tired.
- I= Decrease in interest in previous interests or activities.
- G=Excessive feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- E=Increase or decrease in Energy – lethargy, which is different from feeling tired.
- C= Decrease in concentration and the ability to stay focused, which can often be reflected in lower grades.
- A = Decrease or increase in appetiteas a change in eating habits
- P= Psychomotor retardation is the slowing down of your mental or physical activities. Students often see this in the form of slow thinking or slow body movements.
- S= Suicide thoughts, plans or intentions. Of course, this is the deepest of all symptoms that requires immediate action.
It’s not uncommon for students to experience any of these symptoms alone or in conjunction with another, but Young says they should be managed when they persist for an extended period of time. Effective School Solutions operates in 9 states to serve more than 90 districts, implementing mental health care within schools so students do not need to be taken out of the classroom for care.
“The question is no longer whether our students need support, but what are the most effective mental health services and how can districts best implement them,” says Young. “In short, the conversation for school districts has moved from ‘should we offer these services’ to ‘how do I implement these services in an impactful way?’”
Our new weekly Impact Report newsletter examines how ESG news and trends are shaping the roles and responsibilities of today’s executives. subscribe here.