Mental Health Wins for Schools
Mental health has always been a serious topic in the education system, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased its importance. This is not only true for students, but for the educators whose task it is to teach them. Improving the mental health status of the people in a school can be difficult, especially with a lack of resources. However, there have been some wins and positive notes in the past few years that we want to highlight here.
Mental health and public schools
At the end of February, President Biden spoke in his State of the Union Address about the value of mental health resources in schools. Biden announced that he will be implementing a strategy to aid the overall mental health crisis in America. This is a part of the Unity Agenda which includes a proposal of $1 billion in FY23 that is meant to assist schools in hiring more counselors and psychologists.
In his address, Biden said, “The nation must make new commitments to respond to an unprecedented mental health crisis that has had particularly harsh effects on children and teens, who have faced rising rates of depression and anxiety amid pandemic isolation.”
The goal is for funding to help the public schools hire more mental health professionals, which are currently in short supply. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of 1 school psychologist per 500 students. According to their most recent study, the current data estimate reflects a ratio of 1 counselor per 1,211 students — far more than what it should be.
The American Rescue Plan
In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan was passed which provided funding for small businesses and other assistance programs. Part of the plan included $170 billion for school funding. Among other things, the funding will be used to hire mental health workers, including psychologists.
In a time of need, some schools are beginning to train their teachers with basic skills to address the mental health issues that their students are bringing into the classrooms. At the beginning of 2020, the New York Life Foundation and American Federation of Teachers reported that only 15% of educators were comfortable addressing grief or trauma tied to the pandemic, partially because they were processing their own responses.
According to the American Psychological Association, Mental Health Primers is a program that helps teachers identify behaviors in the classroom that are symptomatic of mental health and other psychological issues, even outside of the pandemic. The program was developed by the Coalition for Psychological in Schools and Education.
The Student Mental Health Helpline Act of 2021
As of November of 2021, legislatures introduced the Student Mental Health Helpline Act of 2021. The bill would authorize grants that support student mental health and safety helplines. According to the bill “the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) may award the grants to agencies or other subdivisions of a state, Indian tribe, or local government that is primarily responsible for health, public health, or education.”
Leaders in American politics recognize the heavy burden that is placed on the public health school system when it comes to the mental health of students, teachers and administrators. Steps are being taken to give them more funding to hire the necessary staff.