Unfortunately, this was a problem long before COVID-19. About 20 percent of students need mental health services, with the onset of half of cases occurring by age 14, and only a small portion will access appropriate care. Early intervention, however, can mitigate long-term consequences of mental illness. Yet the infrastructure for students to receive mental health services at school is woefully underdeveloped. Only one in five students obtains needed mental health services through school.

Nearly half of public school students are enrolled in a school without a psychologist on staff, and less than 3 percent of schools nationwide meet the recommended social worker-to-student ratio.

Classroom teachers and staff are often the first adults outside the family to interact with students experiencing psychological distress. Thankfully, the recent stimulus packages allow schools to allocate funds toward mental health-related services, which could include professional development to train teachers and staff members to recognize signs that students are struggling. With the appropriate training, teachers and other school staff can learn to manage conversations with students to help them navigate challenges and, if necessary, connect them with mental health support services.

Here are four ways schools can prioritize mental health as part of a safe reopening plan:

  1. Prepare teachers and staff to recognize signs of distress among students
  2. Increase availability of mental health services and resources.
  3. Address stigma through mental health literacy.
  4. Teach students to manage feelings through social-emotional learning.

Read the full article about student mental health by Glenn Albright at The 74.