The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an uncertain year for districts, educators, and students in many ways. Schools are still deciding how to approach back-to-school, choosing between remote learning, full-time campus attendance, or a hybrid alternating schedule combining remote and classroom learning.
With such uncertainty, one thing that’s clear is the importance of supporting students as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis––in terms of both their mental health and academics. In order to get a better idea of how districts are planning to support their students during the 2020-21 school year, we surveyed over 200 educators, district leaders, and school mental health professionals about their schools’ approach to student mental health support.
Here’s what we learned:
A wide variety of professionals are responsible for student mental health initiatives in schools.
Districts approach student mental health needs from a plethora of different angles, and there’s no standard for who is responsible for heading and managing mental health initiatives. According to survey respondents, the most common professionals in charge of district mental health needs are guidance and student services, individual school counselors, school psychologists, student support administrators, and school principals. Many districts do not have one person or role responsible for providing this support, and many of these professionals have other responsibilities in their school or district, which can draw attention away from supporting students’ emerging mental health needs.
Most districts address mental health needs on a case-by-case basis or refer students with needs directly to a specific person in the district.
Many schools don’t have a dedicated person in charge of identifying students in need of mental health services, and only address these concerns on a case-by-case basis. For schools who do have someone in charge of identifying student mental health needs, it’s not unusual for that person to have other responsibilities in the district, as well. This opens up the possibility of some students’ emerging mental health needs not being identified promptly, leading to the potential for more serious mental health concerns down the road.
The COVID-19 crisis has made addressing student mental health needs more important than ever.
The COVID-19 crisis––and its associated student concerns such as remote learning, food insecurity, and family struggles––has made supporting students’ needs a top priority this year. Nearly 90% of survey respondents consider addressing student mental health needs to be more important than last year.
Following CDC guidelines is expected to have a significant impact on students and is the top district priority in the 2020-21 school year, while identifying and supporting student mental health needs is the second highest priority.
As students head back to school, educators and district leaders are most concerned about maintaining safe learning spaces and the health of their students. The adaptations students will have to make in order to follow safe CDC guidelines in the classroom are expected to impact students significantly.
Educators and district leaders are also prioritizing the importance of identifying and supporting students with mental health needs, as this will be another significant concern during the 2020-21 school year.
While almost half of survey respondents are semi-confident in their ability to identify non-urgent but serious mental health situations in students, nearly 1 in 5 respondents are not very confident.
Many districts are not very confident in their ability to support students with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and stress. Teachers and staff in these districts indicated the need for additional professional development and training on identifying mental health needs.
Also, districts who are currently operating in a mostly- to fully-remote learning capacity this fall are concerned about their ability to support students from afar. Systems and training have not yet been implemented to identify student mental health issues when they’re not in the classroom, and it’s particularly difficult to recognize students in need of support if they’re not actively participating and connecting through online learning.
Implementing new support services is a complex process for most districts, and cost is a barrier to providing new services.
When districts identify a need for new student mental health support services, many have to jump through hurdles to get new programs approved, and cost is often a critical consideration. Thirty percent of respondents said their districts can only expand services if they are at no cost to the district or are covered by grants, and over 20% said they have to first complete a school board approval process. These barriers can make it difficult to implement the support programs that students need.
As the 2020-21 school year begins, supporting students and their mental health concerns is a priority for most schools. The COVID-19 crisis has only amplified the need for student mental health services and support, and many schools are reaching out for the help they need to better advocate for student mental health. As districts look for low- to no-cost resources that can help, LearnWell stands ready.
To help schools provide students with the mental health assistance they need, LearnWell currently offers services that directly support districts’ mental health initiatives. As part of their comprehensive offerings, LearnWell Counseling services address students’ emerging mental health needs with virtual therapeutic counseling to help reduce the risk of hospitalization or other crises students may face. LearnWell also offers academic services for students who are actively receiving mental health treatment, as well as support students through the transition period back to school following their treatment. This integrated set of services is designed to give students a constant source of support throughout the continuum of care.