It’s no question that American youth are facing an urgent mental health crisis. After a two-year decline in 2019 and 2020, suicide rates among American youth increased in 2021, according to a recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And there are increasing reports from adolescents of anxiety, stress and mental health challenges. A study released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2022 found that between 2016 and 2020, the number of children ages 3 to 17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29 percent, and those diagnosed with depression grew by 27 percent.

“These data show a distressing picture,” said Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer during a briefing. “America’s teen girls are engulfed in a growing wave of sadness, violence and trauma.” The recent suicide of a 14-year-old girl in New Jersey emphasizes the urgency of this data. More broadly, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “mental health disorders have surpassed physical conditions as the most common causes of impairments and limitations in children.”

As the founder of an organization that provides social-emotional learning (SEL) experiences for preK-12 students, educators and families, and a mother of three, I spend a great deal of time considering what this crisis means for schools and communities. As caregivers, educators and school systems continue to navigate how to process and respond to the stresses and traumas young people experience, we need to continue to push the conversation toward proactive, preventative support. We cannot wait for tragedy to disrupt our lives and communities. We cannot wait for devastating losses of young lives taken far too soon. Schools need to lay a foundation that prepares students for independent learning and proactively builds students’ confidence, sense of self, purpose and belonging. Students need support developing their ability to cultivate meaningful relationships, honing social skills and in turn, strengthening their social, emotional and mental well-being.

Unfortunately our schools function much like our health system, which is often criticized for delivering “sick care” and not “health care.” It is a system focused too much on solving problems when they happen, rather than addressing the root cause before symptoms occur.

Read the full article about mental health supports by Sara Potler LaHayne   at EdSurge.