Why we need to talk about youth mental health
Supporting mental health for our students and youth is a crucial part of our education system. Mental health has a significant impact on a student’s academic performance, social interactions, and overall well-being, and unfortunately mental health challenges have skyrocketed among children and teenagers.
It is estimated that one in five children ages 3-17 experience a mental disorder in a given year, the most common of which are ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression. And in 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless regularly for at least a two-week period that they stopped doing their normal daily activities.
COVID-19 disruptions impact youth mental health
When schools closed in March 2020, no one knew how remote instruction and limited access to student support services would impact students. The disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have significant, long-term impacts on a variety of youth outcomes. Early research indicates decreased rates of focus, attention and sleep, and increased clinginess, fear, and irritability among youth.
The pandemic and school closures also disrupted school-related supports and services that are fundamental to children’s development and well-being. A recent study surveyed 1,504 U.S. parents to determine the impact of the pandemic on the social-emotional well-being and educational needs of their school-aged children during the 2021–2022 academic year. Results indicated that:
- 26.1% of children had challenges with hyperactivity/inattention
- 32.6% had peer relationship problems
- 40% had deficits in prosocial behaviors
Compared with pre-pandemic levels, teenagers are more likely to experience persistent feelings of distress or malaise that interfere in their lives. They are more likely to think about suicide and more likely to attempt it.The Guardian
The majority of parents (83.5%) reported a school-related need, with 57% reporting mental health challenges and 77% reporting learning supports and enrichment needs. Parents reported their child’s highest priority needs to be for tutoring, socialization, increased instructional time, managing stress, and physical activity.
Not only is suicide the third-leading cause of death for youth ages 15–19, but one in four adolescents age 12 to 17 have had a substance use disorder or a major depressive episode in the past year.
While the pandemic disrupted normal routines and social interaction, our community has also experienced a mass shooting and a destructive wildfire in recent years, making it even more critical for schools and parents to prioritize mental health support for our youth.
How we are supporting the mental health of BVSD students
One of the most promising mental health interventions is school-based services. Within BVSD, students have access to counselors, Mental Health Advocates, and other engagement specialists for social-emotional and behavioral support, student achievement and crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, and referrals to external resources. To expand BVSD’s ability to support students and their families, Impact on Education has:
- Funded four new Mental Health Advocate (MHA) positions in BVSD. We’ve also committed to funding these MHAs through the 2023-24 school year.
- Supported the creation of BVSD’s first high school Wellness Center at Monarch High School. We’re also working to expand the program so our five largest high schools have Wellness Centers staffed by full-time counselors.
Another important element of support is educating students and their families about mental health and reducing stigma. Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in supporting their children’s mental health.
Many students may feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help for their mental health concerns, and many parents don’t know how to communicate with their children about mental health. By providing mental health training and educational resources for students, families and BVSD staff, we hope to help reduce this stigma and encourage students to seek the support they need.
“Schools, families and teens themselves have an important role to play to address this crisis and they are eager to find tools that can make a difference.”Mental Health First Aid
Next month we are hosting a free mental health panel discussion for parents. In partnership with BVSD, Centura Health, Comcast, and UnitedHealthcare, Impact on Education will gather clinicians, BVSD educators and administrators, community health professionals and people with lived experiences, for “A Community Conversation: Supporting the Mental Health of our Youth.” Panelists will discuss the current mental health risks facing youth, techniques for communicating with children about their mental health needs, resources available to parents, and more.
Building a better future
Impact on Education is working to raise both the awareness and funds needed to address youth mental health as we would any other physical illness. Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent among children and teenagers, and we can all help create a community that prioritizes the mental health of our youth.
By helping students feel safe and supported at school and offering support to those most likely to positively influence someone at risk, we’re bringing mental health out of the shadows.
Browse BVSD’s mental health resources
BEFORE YOU GO …
Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We need your help to to provide opportunity and resources to 29,000 students and 4,000 educators in the Boulder Valley School District.