Education

3 keys to supporting students during a mental health crisis

A January 2022 study published in JAMA Pediatrics confirmed what many educators, administrators, and support staff already knew: School closures, disrupted learning, and a pandemic year have coalesced to create an alarming mental health crisis among teenagers.

The study found that up to 60 percent of students are experiencing “strong distress,” including anxiety and depression. The results echoed a recent American Psychological Association (APA) report, which found that more than 80 percent of teenagers experienced “more intense stress” during the pandemic.

In other words, as Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, notes, “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade.”

To support students during this uniquely challenging time, schools are implementing a variety of stop-gap solutions, including closing for short durations, to help alleviate stress while diverting resources, adjusting curriculums, enhancing care opportunities to improve students’ learning and mental health outcomes.

Each of these efforts is excellent, but they are unlikely to provide the tools kids need to flourish when implemented alone. However, when schools eliminate barriers to access support, streamline onboarding to maximize resources, and increase collaboration across support systems, they can most effectively help students achieve holistic wellness.

Eliminate barriers to support services

Asking for help is hard. It requires tremendous courage, the right opportunity, and a listening ear, three ingredients that are too often allusive for students. Therefore, when a student communicates a need to a teacher, coach, counselor, administrator, social worker, or other trusted adult, schools need a safe and secure process for sharing this information with qualified support services.

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