Schools today face many challenges, with student mental health being one of the most pressing issues.
To better understand the latest student trends, ECINS conducted The State of Student Mental Health Survey of school social workers, teachers, counselors, administrators, and other stakeholders working on the front lines with students to enable, empower, and inspire their success.
The results provide real-time insights into students’ mental health challenges from the professionals working with them every day. It also identifies the solutions making the most impact, allowing schools to implement emerging best practices in student mental health support.
Here are five takeaways from the social workers, teachers, counselors, administrators, and other stakeholders who know our students best.
#1 Educators and school social workers see deteriorating student mental health.
Stress and anxiety have historically been linked to adolescence, but a confluence of novel circumstances has made these challenges more pronounced and profound.
According to The State of Student Mental Health Survey, 85 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that students seem more stressed and anxious than in previous school years, a problem with far-reaching ramifications for students, schools, and communities.
The report’s findings underscore the most recent CDC data, which found that teenagers, especially girls, reported increasing mental health challenges, experiences of violence, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the past year.
As one school social worker laments, “The impact this is having is heartbreaking. Students are struggling in ways I have not seen in the 20+ years I have been a school social worker. The anxiety and stress impacts academics, attendance, social skills, social interactions with adults and peers, and their friendships. The increase of suicide assessments, hospitalizations, and treatment plans is frightening… and the students are younger than before.”
The survey’s findings align with other academic institutions, like the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which reported a 70 percent increase in students seeking mental health services since the start of the pandemic. In addition, IES found that 80 percent of public schools “have seen stunted behavioral and socioemotional development in their students,” providing critical context to behavioral and academic disruptions schools are experiencing.
#2 Mental health and academic progress are closely linked.
As students’ mental health worsens, academic performance is plummeting. A national exam known as the nation’s report card saw a sharp decline in math and reading scores across demographic and geographic cohorts, pressing schools to improve students’ academic performance even as they help students improve mental health and emotional well-being.
Academic performance and emotional well-being are closely linked. Most survey respondents see a clear connection between students’ deteriorating mental health and academic performance. Collectively, 89 percent of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that stress and anxiety are negatively impacting academic outcomes.
Notably, just two percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement, underscoring education professionals’ consensus that mental health and academic progress are closely linked, and schools must address both to be successful.
#3 Students are willing to communicate their needs and ask for help from trusted adults at school.
Fortunately, students are looking for support, and they are willing to communicate their needs to a trusted adult.
Seventy percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that students are willing to communicate mental health challenges to a trusted adult at school. When school social workers, teachers, coaches, and support staff cultivate student relationships and supportive learning environments, students more often communicate challenges, which opens the door to providing solutions that meet their needs.
This elevates the importance of connecting with students throughout the school day. As one survey respondent explained, “People need to know that relationships are so important in an educational environment. When students feel safe and supported, they will talk and share.”
Creating a safe and supportive environment goes beyond just encouraging students to communicate their needs. It requires intentional and proactive efforts from school staff, something school personnel often feel unprepared to provide.
#4 Social workers and teachers feel unprepared to support students’ needs.
Social workers, teachers, and other school personnel desperately want to help students thrive, but many feel unprepared to help.
Eighty-one percent of respondents are indifferent or disagree that their school district’s existing support structure adequately meets students’ needs.
Specifically, school personnel want more resources to help support students. Eighty-eight percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that they wish they had more tools or resources to help students address their various mental health challenges.
Such resources could include financial provisions to provide helpful programs for students, educational training to empower personnel to advocate for students grounded in best practices, or interpersonal relationships to enhance a support system for school staff.
#5 Schools can do more to help.
Schools are working tirelessly to support their students. However, most survey respondents say that schools can do more to adequately meet the needs of all students.
Specifically, only 35 percent of survey respondents said their school or local community has a tool for reporting, supporting, and maintaining student mental health challenges and outcomes.
Technology solutions can help bridge this gap. As one survey respondent succinctly wrote, “Collaborative technology exists and can assist [school social workers] to support more students.”
Indeed, technology solutions can help make the connection by tracking students’ progress, helping schools to better understand their needs and providing valuable data on the impact of intervention strategies.
The survey results reveal a need for schools to address students’ mental health needs. Many students are willing to share their challenges with trusted adults, but the staff feels unprepared to support them. To address this, schools must equip their staff with the tools, training, and experience to support students’ mental health.
Connections between school personnel and support resources need to be fostered, and effective reporting protocols established to improve outcomes. Technology solutions can help track students’ progress and support services, providing critical data that can help shape the future of student mental health programs.
In many ways, the survey provides empirical data to support what many people already understand: students are in need, and we have the capacity to help them thrive.