Schools struggle with student mental health

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Ask most teachers or principals about their students’ mental health this year, and they’ll tell you how much worse things are than normal: No more fights in the hallway. Students unable to concentrate in class. Depression and sadness.

New federal data helps quantify just how much worse it is.

A survey released Tuesday documents the impact of the pandemic on student mental health, with 7 in 10 public schools seeing an increase in the number of children seeking services. Even more, 76%, said faculty and staff members have expressed concern about student depression, anxiety and trauma since the pandemic began.

Yet only about half of all schools reported being able to effectively provide needed services.

The results come as an extremely stressful school year draws to a close. They add to the evidence that the pandemic is leaving this generation of students with significant mental health issues. Anecdotally, teachers report that students’ emotional growth has been stunted during months or more of distance learning, and many have returned to the classroom without learning the coping skills that would be typical of their age.

“The pandemic has had a clear and significant impact on student mental health,” said Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which conducted the survey.

The investigation was conducted in April, before last week’s devastating massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Due to increased need, 2 out of 3 schools have increased the types or amount of mental health services available, according to the survey. Almost all schools – 96% – provided at least some school mental health services, most often by a school counselor or licensed mental health provider employed by the school system.

Additionally, just over half of schools provided teachers with training on how to help students improve their social, emotional, or mental well-being, and nearly half created or expanded health programs. social and emotional.

Seven in 10 schools said they have a program in place to address social and emotional learning, even though these programs have come under attack from conservatives in some communities.

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Another 28% of schools said they had changed their daily or annual school calendar in the hope of alleviating mental health issues. In some places, it was a controversial move because it meant canceling classes on certain days, forcing families already exhausted by campus closures to rush for care.

Indio High School in Southern California offers 14 support groups to meet students’ socio-emotional needs, principal Derrick Lawson said. Groups cover topics such as grief, wellness, anger management and social skills. Some are long term, and others come together for a short time.

Some 400 students, out of about 2,000 in the school, participate in at least one of the groups, he said. The school relies on outside providers and would run more groups, Lawson said, if it could find ways to staff them.

“We need people more than we can find,” he said.

In many cases, he said, the pandemic has brought out long-standing mental health issues. He compared it to what appears to be a calm pool of water. “If you drain the water, all of a sudden you find all kinds of stuff.”

The federal survey found that many school officials said the increased needs were not being met.

Only 12% of schools strongly agreed with the statement “My school is able to effectively provide mental health services to all students who need them”. A further 44% said they moderately agreed.

This left 44% who either disagreed or did not express an opinion. The most frequently cited reasons were lack of staff and, for about half of the schools, insufficient funding.

The survey found no statistically significant differences on this question between schools based on the racial or economic demographics of their student body.

It also found that middle and high schools were more likely than elementary schools to say they could serve all students.

The survey revealed that mental health needs were acute not only for students, but also for school employees. About 3 in 10 schools reported an increase in the number of workers seeking school mental health services, and 6 in 10 reported an increase in staff members’ concern about their own mental health or that of their colleagues.

Some schools have responded to these increased needs by providing additional professional development on mental health and more time to prepare for classes. Three in 10 offered additional paid time off and 14% increased their pay.

The survey of 830 K-12 public schools from a sample chosen to be nationally representative was conducted April 12-26 by the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the Federal Ministry of Education. The survey, conducted monthly, was created to track the impact of the pandemic, including the amount of in-person schooling offered by districts.

Virtually all schools now offer full-time in-person classes and have done so for some time. The April survey found a drop in the share of schools that had students out of the building due to quarantines, from 94% during omicron’s push in January to 30% in April.

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