The rise in mental health needs among students following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed the U.S. Surgeon General to declare a youth mental health crisis, and the federal government has rolled out billions of dollars since then to help schools respond.

But Pierrottet, who now works as associate director of student wellness at the National Association of State Boards of Education, noted in a policy brief a major hurdle in getting students the help they need: an inadequate supply of mental health professionals, specifically those credentialed to work in schools.

Here’s what she found is standing in the way — and how states are finding solutions.

One issue is that growing the number of mental health professionals in schools takes time. Investments made into increasing the pipeline now won’t see results — in the form of hireable mental health workers — for several years.

During Pierrottet’s research, she found that officials on Nevada’s State Board of Education noted in April of last year that the state’s prep programs for mental health professionals only graduate 12 people each year. At the time, the state had a shortage of 2,863 school mental health professionals.

“It continues to be a challenge because it’s a profession that requires advanced coursework,” Pierrottet says. “No one’s saying they need to change those requirements, but it’s a slow investment.”

There’s also the need to ensure that school mental health professionals — be they school psychologists, social workers or counselors — reflect the demographics of the students they serve, she adds. One of the challenges is that, like their classroom teacher colleagues, mental health professionals-in-training have to complete hundreds of unpaid practicum hours.

But the immediate mental health needs have created crushing workloads for counselors.

Pierrottet writes in her policy paper that national trade organizations recommend student-to-professional ratios of 1:250 for school social workers, 1:250 for school counselors and 1:500 for school psychologists.

There’s a long way to go to ease workloads for all three types of positions. No states meet the recommended ratio for social workers, while Pierrottet found only New Hampshire and Vermont have better caseloads than the recommendations for counselors. For school psychologists, only Idaho and Washington D.C. do better than the recommended ratio.

Some states have gotten creative to increase the availability of mental health professionals in their schools, like turning to telehealth for counseling services.

Read the full article about student mental health by Nadia Tamez-Robledo at EdSurge.