COVID-19 Fallout

Report: Mental Health Services Inadequate for the Current Needs of Students

As any number of studies has found, students are struggling with mental health challenges, created and exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • In an April and May 2020 survey one in four youngsters ages 13–19 reported an increase in sleep loss due to worry, feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain, and loss of confidence in themselves;

  • An August 2020 CDC report found one quarter of respondents ages 18–24 had considered suicide in the 30 days prior to completing the survey; and

  • Another CDC project found that emergency department visits related to mental health increased 24% for 5–11-year-olds and 31% for 12–17-year-olds between January and October 2020.

Yet, the availability of mental health services is inadequate to the current need. A new report from the U.S. Department of Education has suggested that there's a "unique opportunity" right now to rethink the mental health help provided by schools and programs by dedicating a portion of relief funding to a dramatic expansion of social workers, school counselors, school nurses, and school psychologists available to support students.

Aside from trying to build up staff, as the report noted, there are more modest steps schools can take to help their communities.

The report highlights the seven main challenges in providing mental health support to kids, along with ways to counteract those obstacles.

For example, for the first challenge referenced, "rising mental health needs and disparities among children and student groups," the recommendation is to "prioritize wellness for each and every child, student, educator and provider." How? By doing assessments to determine the specific needs, promoting and embedding wellness and "de-stressing" activities into the day, and promoting connectedness among adults in small and big ways.

"Consider investing in a small number of evidence-based practices that are matched explicitly to the needs of the community and have the potential of impacting children and students with identified needs," the report offered.

The new resource is intended to supplement and build on the information already published in three COVID-19 handbooks produced by the federal agency:

"Our efforts as educators must go beyond literacy, math, history, science and other core subjects to include helping students to build the social, emotional, and behavioral skills they will need to fully access and participate in learning and make the most of their potential and future opportunities," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, in a statement. "Amid the pandemic, we know that our students have experienced so much. We can't unlock students' potential unless we also address the needs they bring with them to the classroom each day. As educators, it's our responsibility to ensure that we are helping to provide students with a strong social and emotional foundation so that they also can excel academically."

The report is openly available on the Department of Education's website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.