Schools are struggling with students’ mental health

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Ask most teachers or principals about their students’ mental health this year and they will tell you stories of how much worse things are than normal: More battles in the corridor. Students cannot concentrate in class. Depression and sadness.

New federal data helps quantify how much worse.

A study published on Tuesday documented the pandemic’s impact on students’ mental health, with 7 out of 10 public schools seeing an increase in the number of children seeking services. Moreover, 76 percent said teachers and staff have expressed concern about students’ depression, anxiety and trauma since the beginning of the pandemic.

Yet only about half of all schools said they were able to provide the necessary services effectively.

The results come with the approach of an extremely stressful school year. They add to the evidence that the pandemic leaves this generation of students with significant mental health challenges. Anecdotally, teachers report that students’ emotional growth has been delayed for months or longer distance learning and that many have returned to the classroom without coping skills that would be typical of their age.

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

The study was conducted in April, before last week’s devastating massacre at a primary school in Uwalde, Texas.

As a result of growing needs, 2 out of 3 schools increased the type or amount of mental health services available, the study found. Almost all schools – 96 percent – provide at least some school-based mental health services, most often by a school counselor or a licensed mental health provider employed by the school system.

In addition, just over half of schools offered teacher training on how to help students with their social, emotional or mental well-being, and almost half created or expanded social and emotional health programs.

Seven out of 10 schools said they have a program to address social and emotional learning, although these programs have been attacked by conservatives in some communities.

In “socio-emotional learning”, the right sees a more critical racial theory

Separately, 28% of schools said they had made changes to their daily or annual academic calendars in hopes of alleviating mental health problems. In some places, this was a controversial move because it meant canceling school hours on certain days, forcing families already exhausted from closing the campus to fight for care.

Indio High School in Southern California offers 14 support groups to address students’ social and emotional needs, said principal Derrick Lawson. The groups cover topics such as grief, wellness, anger management and social skills. Some are long-term and others are short-lived.

About 400 students, out of about 2,000 at the school, participate in at least one of the groups, he said. The school relies on outside vendors and would manage more groups, Lawson said, if he could find ways to customize them.

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

In many cases, he said, the pandemic has brought long-term mental health struggles to the surface. He likened it to what looked like a calm pool of water. “If you drain the water, you will suddenly find all sorts of things.

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

Only 12 percent of schools strongly agree with the statement “My school is able to effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.” An additional 44 percent said they moderately agreed.

That left 44 percent who either disagreed or disagreed. The most common reasons cited are insufficient staff and insufficient funding for about half of the schools.

The study found no statistically significant differences in this regard between schools based on the racial or economic demographics of their students.

It has also been found that secondary and upper secondary schools are more inclined than primary schools to say that they can serve all students.

The study found that mental health needs are acute not only for students but also for school staff. About 3 out of 10 schools report an increase in workers seeking mental health services at school, and 6 out of 10 report an increase in employees’ concerns about their own mental health or the mental health of their colleagues.

Some schools have responded to these increased needs by providing additional professional development in mental health and more preparation time for classes. Three out of 10 offered additional paid leave, and 14 percent increased compensation.

The survey of 830 public K-12 schools from a sample selected to be nationally representative was conducted from April 12th to 26th by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Federal Department of Education. The survey, conducted monthly, is designed to track the impact of the pandemic, including how much personal training is offered by the districts.

Almost all schools now offer personal, regular training for some time. The April poll found a drop in the proportion of schools where students were out of the building due to quarantine, falling from 94 per cent during the omicron jump in January to 30 per cent in April.

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