While the mental health of students remains a top concern of many in the education field, federal data reveals that it’s not all bad news. Or at the very least, not getting worse in all areas and potentially improving in some.

The National Center for Education Statistics released its biennial Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools report covering the 2021-22 academic year. It uses survey responses from principals of nearly 2,700 P-12 schools to take the pulse of myriad issues that affect students and how schools operate.

Nearly 90 percent of schools reported increased social and emotional support for students during the 2021-22 academic year.

However, 39 percent of schools reported that lack of access to licensed professionals and mental health funding were major roadblocks to their efforts supporting student mental health. During that same time period, the U.S. Department of Education says that $275.7 million of emergency school funds were spent on mental health support for students and staff.

While conversations about the importance of student mental health have become abundant since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amir Gilmore points out that there are still a myriad of reasons why schools don’t have enough resources for the kind of support framework they need. Gilmore is associate dean of equity and inclusion for student success and retention at Washington State University’s College of Education.

There are, of course, workforce barriers like the time-consuming mental health professional pipeline and a lack of availability of candidates in any one region. Many schools have just one mental health professional, Gilmore explains, who could be the only source of support for hundreds or thousands of students. That’s a recipe for burnout, he says, and doesn’t touch on the need for counselors who are equipped to work with students of color or students with disabilities.

“We also are facing this kind of crisis where we don't have enough teachers in schools to really work with students,” Gilmore says, “but then we also just don't have enough mental health professionals, either. Everyone is just really stretched thin.”

That invariably puts the onus back on teachers to handle student mental health issues. Gilmore posits that placing that responsibility on teachers’ shoulders adds to the strain of their day-to-day work rather than solves the problem.

“Do we talk about mental health? Do we talk about SEL a lot in schools and teacher preparation programs? Yes, but the teacher cannot be everything, right?” Gilmore says. “They cannot wear so many different hats, and it's just not a very sustainable process for them, either.”

Despite the recent effort and money put toward alleviating the mental health workforce’s shortages, “it will likely take years to fully ensure every student has access to [mental health] professionals and proper support,” Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, policy and advocacy director at the National Association of School Psychologists, told EdSurge via email interview.

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