Mind Matters: The Modern State of Student Mental Health
For students, whether K-12 or pursuing higher education, mental health is a large part of their success and experience in education.
In the past ten years, more school districts and organizations have promoted mental well-being and awareness about the topic. However, many leaders are still finding new ways to support learners’ emotional health. The mental health crisis has been building for many years, and the issue is becoming more prevalent recently.
We will look at the value and importance of student mental health and offer resources for leaders. Let’s get started!
The Modern State of Student Mental Health
Many who work in education are still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which seriously impacted educators and students by increasing rates of learning loss. Mental health was another area where students and teachers saw some adverse effects. Learners were struggling with mental disorders and other poor mental health symptoms before the events of 2020 and the pandemic only worsened their symptoms.
Let’s look at a 2018 survey by Mental Health America that analyzes the well-being of K-12 students, state by state. Here are some standout pieces of data found in the report that can be used as evidence that mental health has been a growing issue for students, even before the pandemic:
- 1.9 million youth experienced severe depression in 2018.
- 5.13% of youth in America report having a substance use or alcohol problem.
- 63.1% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment.
Additionally, college-aged students faced similar struggles, as shown in a report entitled, “The influence of diagnosed mental health conditions and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety on suicide ideation, plan, and attempt among college students: Findings from the Healthy Minds Study, 2018-2019.” The report found that, during that period, about 11% of 18-25 year-olds reported thoughts of suicide.
The government noted America’s students’ problematic mental health, even in 2010. As a result, H.R.1338 was passed by the 111th Congress and included a few portions focused on school-based mental health providers.
Mental Health in 2023
By the time the pandemic came around, mental health concerns for students had reached a tipping point. As a result, much of the federal spending plans were allocated to help K-12 public schools recover.
An analysis by FutureEd found that 6.4% of the spending was focused on mental and physical health. In addition, their study found that 5,000 school districts intend to hire mental health professionals, and about 30% of the districts plan to fund social-emotional learning efforts.
This push for additional funding for these school psychological services is happening due to the mental health crisis that America is currently facing. The Department of Education reported that more than 75% of students and staff expressed concerns about depression, anxiety, and trauma after the pandemic.
According to a Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education report, higher education organizations were on a similar trajectory. The 2023 study found the following:
- 72% said that the overall trajectory of campus mental health worsened in the past year.
- 84% said that their school should increase financial support for mental health.
- The “single greatest challenge relating to campus mental health is increased severity of mental health issues.”
Recently, political leaders have been pushing bills and legislation to support student mental health services at school. One example is The Mental Health Services For Students Act which was introduced in 2021. The goals of the act include points such as:
- Funding for public schools.
- Promote partnerships between local mental health professionals and students.
- Provide $130,000,000 in competitive grants of up to $2 million each.
- Expand the scope of the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education (AWARE) program.
In addition to the Mental Health Services for Student Act, the U.S. Department of Education announced more than $188 million from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in February 2023.
From kindergarten to higher education, mental health is an essential consideration for leaders to create an environment conducive to success and student well-being.
Available Resources for Struggling Students and Teachers
Because funding for public schools and universities has been relatively sparse, private companies and nonprofits have mental health resources to offer. Let’s take a look at available platforms that teachers can provide students or students may be able to find with the help of a parent:
The Resource Gap
Despite the increasing government funding and private resources available for student mental health, many learners are still experiencing a resource gap for various reasons.
While there has been a teacher shortage in K-12 education, the same is true for mental health professionals willing to work in and partner with schools. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), “the national ratio for the 2021-2022 school year is 1127 students to 1 school psychologist.”
NASP recommends 500 students to 1 school psychologist to ensure each student is cared for properly, so the current ratio is not conducive to caring for students’ mental health concerns. In addition, the insufficient number of mental health professionals and the lack of licensed mental health doctors can seriously impact the well-being of students because there isn’t the opportunity for individualized support.
Students should be able to rely on their teachers and administrators to help support them through mental health issues, but caretakers also play a big part in this. Some students have guardians that don’t have the resources and funds to offer wellness support, which could also negatively impact their overall mental health. According to Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 15% of students are concerned about the reaction they could get from their parents if they ask for mental health support.
We have already discussed the importance of funding, but there is extreme inconsistency in financial support for mental health across the schools of America. While one geographic area might be able to pay for a greater wealth of services, another district may have different access to resources, leaving their students without the same tools.
This lack of access can boost the massive barrier for some students, contributing to the widening mental health gap in K-12 and higher education.
The Future of Mental Health and Education
As more and more parents, legislators, teachers, and students begin to see the importance of learner mental health, leaders will continue to help provide access and awareness. We’ve already seen an increase in funding from the government to support these student health services in public schools, and the stigma of asking for help when needed has lessened to some degree.
In 2021, when three separate government agencies declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, many eyes were opened to the realities of student well-being. This has held true, even for those in higher education. For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that many universities began to “embrace a broader culture of well-being,” including helping students and teachers access the tools they needed to support their struggling mental health.
As the APA article says, many school leaders are beginning to think outside of the box when it comes to offering services to students, including methods like:
- Peer counseling.
- Group therapy.
- Equipping teachers and staff to find and help those in need.
While the future may be uncertain, education facilities of all kinds are taking note of their role in boosting student mental health.
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