Increasing Mental Health Support in Schools

August 16, 2022 | Ohio

Increasing Mental Health Support in Schools

August 16, 2022

By Gabe Eribo, Summer Intern

My high school is a college-preparatory so everyone is hardworking and driven to succeed. This may be a positive trait for a school to possess, but it does have one glaring downside. Because there are so many smart students, a toxic culture is able to form where if you talk to your counselor because you’re not feeling well, push the date of an assessment back because you have too much going on, or do poorly on a test, it feels like you are seen as dumb, weak, or lazy by your peers. This stigma around mental health makes it difficult for students to work on their well-being especially with all the issues in the world today.

I am fortunate enough to attend a school with staff that focus on student mental health, but most students in the Midwest don’t have access to such a luxury. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, 70% of public schools in the U.S reported an increase of students turning to faculty for help, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, 56% of public schools are able to provide the mental health services that students need. The action taken by schools in the Midwest has not been sufficient as only 44% of schools have hired new staff to focus on mental health and only 20% have added classes on well-being to their curriculums. Because of this lack of action, many students’ needs are going unaddressed which leads to them not meeting behavioral and academic expectations. It is essential that schools start to provide more mental health support for students so that they can thrive.

What Now?

In order to combat this mental health crisis in Midwestern schools we will need the combined efforts of teachers, administrators, and families.

Teacher Suggestions

As a result of ongoing and concerns, many students will come back to school this summer having experienced some sort of anxiety or isolation. Teachers will play a vital role in making sure that children feel emotionally-well during class time. The following suggestions may be helpful while schools reopen.

  1. Listen to Children’s Concerns

As teachers, it is important to listen to children’s concerns to ensure that everyone has a fair learning experience. Offer your students time to have one-on-one conversations with you so that they can discuss issues that may inhibit their learning or negatively impact their behavior. If you notice a change in a student’s behavior that persists overtime which prevents them from performing to their capabilities, then you should seek additional support or refer them to mental health professionals or other specialists. Establishing these empathetic connections with your students will surely alleviate stress and improve performance.

  1. Take Care of Yourself

Teachers have shown incredible resilience as they’ve continued to support students during the Covid-19 pandemic while staying physically and emotionally well. However, teachers must remember to tend to their own needs as teaching can be a stressful profession. Remember to maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits, stay in touch with friends and family, exercise, and seek additional support if you are feeling emotionally unwell.

Administrative Suggestions

School administrators are facing increased challenges related to student behavior and staffing shortages. According to Scott DiMauro, the President of the Ohio Education Association, there are more openings in teaching staff across the state this year compared to past years. The following suggestions may be helpful during these tough times.

  1. Identify Funding Strategies to Expand Mental Health Services 

As a result of the increased social isolation, and trauma that many students experienced because of Covid-19, the federal government granted Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Programs (ESSER) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to local education agencies. ESSERS and ARPS are one-time investments that should be used to support short-duration services that address the negative impacts Covid-19 has had on education. For instance, local education agencies may use these funds to prop up mental health services in schools such as, bullying prevention, alcohol and substance prevention, or classes on emotional well-being. You can find more information on these types of funds here.

  1. Implement Universal Mental Health Screenings 

Behavior screening is very effective in identifying children’s emotional needs.  Implementing screenings will allow adults to easily identify and intervene when they see a student experiencing trauma. This will lead to students having easier access to additional emotional/academic resources. All in all, screening is essential in ensuring health and wellness in every child.

Family Suggestions

As Parents, it’s important to make sure that your child feels supported at home as they adjust to new learning circumstances. Below are suggestions for parents to support their child.

  1. Encourage Communication

You need to make sure that your child feels comfortable approaching you with any problem. Letting them know that you’re there to listen to them without judgment or harshness can go a long way, and will increase their chances of coming to you with concerns.

  1. Maintain Healthy Habits

Make sure your children are maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet as they promote overall wellness. In addition, make sure your child is getting enough sleep. In my experience, sometimes us students stay up late trying to finish homework assignments when it’s better to just communicate with your instructors as they are quite understanding. And finally encourage them to get outside and exercise as we find ourselves sitting inside staring at screens all day.