8 Ways Schools Can Support Student Well-Being
The youth mental health crisis plaguing our youth continues to escalate, with anxiety levels in children rapidly increasing for nearly a decade. In fact, between 2016 and 2020, diagnosis rates of children aged 3-17 rose nearly 30%.
COVID-19 raised the stakes even higher. In addition to social and physical isolation, caregiver stress levels resulting from economic and health-related concerns played a role in the worsening mental health experienced by youth. Without the relative safety net that school provides, students found themselves grappling with an onslaught of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
ACEs such as food insecurity, homelessness, abuse and severe household dysfunction – many experiences that school served as a reprieve from – worsened during the pandemic. Post-pandemic, nearly 60% of teen girls reported feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness, as did more than a third of all students, regardless of race or gender.
The return to the classroom did little to mitigate the issues students were experiencing. On top of the stress caused by the pandemic, students felt pressure to catch up academically. For many, the strain of academics on top of social and emotional stressors felt like too much.
Furthermore, across more than 33 million online school and social media alerts, Navigate360 data from this school year show alerts related to self-harm are up 51% year-over-year, compared to the 25% increase year-over-year in alerts related to weapons and harm to others. Additionally, more than 4,000 anonymous tips per week are coming into school tip lines, with the most common tips related to self-harm and weapons.
With these concerning statistics and data points top of mind, many are looking to the educational system to support student well-being. But how can schools help with mental health?
Maslow Before Bloom
While it can be argued that academics are the primary responsibility of the educational environment, the fact remains that students who do not feel safe and supported in school are not mentally prepared to take on the task of learning. By working to address the basic needs of students as defined in “Maslow Before Bloom” schools can better serve elements such as physical, social and emotional safety, which includes mental health and wellness.
Schools can help with mental health by putting measures in place that help create a safe and proactive environment for mental health challenges. This can include mechanisms for reporting concerning behavior, social-emotional learning curricula and proactive threat response training.
Education goes far beyond the boundaries of academic learning. Schools have a responsibility to help students develop into productive citizens who can regulate their emotions, form healthy relationships and make responsible decisions. By working to support the whole child, schools can help improve mental health, school culture and academic achievement for all.
Ways to Improve Mental Health In Schools
Being proactive in addressing mental health challenges among students can help to mitigate the risk of harm to themselves and others. In 2021, the US Surgeon General released a report examining the youth mental health crisis and offering key takeaways for mitigating and improving the challenges that young people face. These conclusions remain relevant, including improving school culture, focusing on social-emotional learning, and prioritization of mental health supports. Students, staff and families can all benefit.
The creation and curation of a positive school environment can provide a much-needed respite for students struggling with mental health challenges. Evidence-based programs that can impact school climate include:
Acknowledging positive behaviors while providing assistance to students who may need additional guidance helps to create positive school culture. In such an environment, students develop positive habits that build self-esteem, make classrooms operate smoothly and create academic success.
The so-called “soft-skills” embedded in social-emotional learning prepare students for success, both within the school environment and after their educational careers. SEL lessons enable them to develop proactive coping strategies, make responsible decisions and work collaboratively with others.
Learning to protect and care for one’s mental health is a key part of overall wellness. A curriculum centered around mental health awareness can help reduce stigma, teach coping skills and provide tools and resources to help with mental health.
81% of school violence incidents in the US are anticipated but never reported. Your students have insight into school violence that the adults in their lives don’t have. Enabling them to submit a tip anonymously can help to prevent an incident.
Preparing staff to identify, assess and support students who pose a risk to themselves or others lies at the heart of threat assessment training. Educators, support staff and law enforcement can all work together to intervene in situations that cause concern, developing management strategies that support students and prevent violence.
Within the past decade, suicide risk among youth has continued to grow. Among young people, suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts increased from 2011 to 2021, according to the CDC. Training staff to know what to look for, what to do and how to work as a team can help students experiencing suicidal ideation to get the help and support they need.
Students exist very comfortably in a digital environment, often expressing intent to harm on social media, in email, or through web searches. Detect Digital Scanning inspects thousands of electronic communications while also respecting privacy, alerting schools to digital signals of harm and enabling them to respond with help to those who need it while keeping others safe.
Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis with Navigate360
Navigate360 works closely with schools and districts across the nation to provide strategies and solutions that support student mental health. As a trusted school safety partner, we know that it takes a community of support to care for students’ physical, mental and emotional well-being. With an ecosystem of holistic safety and wellness solutions in place, K-12 schools are in a better position to promote the long-term success of students and teachers.
For more information about how schools can help with mental health, download our resource, Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis. And know that Navigate360 is always here to help you support and encourage students in their mental health journey!