Student mental health is a significant priority for school board members

School board members consider student mental health one of the most pressing issue facing schools and youth today, according to a national survey of trustees released Jan. 25 by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) USA, a program administered by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

While student mental health issues presented a challenge prior to the pandemic, the isolation, stress and grief over loss of friends and loved ones further increased youth needs for mental health resources and services. Currently, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for youth ages 15-19, and one in four adolescents ages 12-17 report having recently experienced a substance use disorder or a major depressive episode.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Board members reported being “extremely concerned” (56 percent) or “very concerned” (30 percent) about student mental health. A higher level of extreme concern than was expressed for school funding (51 percent), staffing challenges (48 percent) and school safety (46 percent), which were the other top issues identified by board members.
  • Nearly every respondent — 98 percent — agreed that schools should play some role in addressing students’ mental health.
  • School board members consider family and home life (66 percent), social media (57 percent) and bullying (44 percent) as the top three issues that most affect student mental health — much more than disruptions caused by COVID-19 (23 percent).
  • Sixty-nine percent of board members said state legislatures need to do a “great deal more” to address student mental health, with 62 percent saying the same of county officials.
  • Those most likely to recognize the signs of a student experiencing a mental health challenge, including suicidal thoughts or behaviors, are the student’s parents and close family members (49 percent), friends (31 percent) and teachers (10 percent), according to respondents.

In light of such findings, MHFA officials said training is critical to help teens and their families identify the signs and symptoms of mental health or substance use challenges, start a supportive conversation about mental health and substance use with peers and loved ones, and how to seek the help of a responsible and trusted adult or professional.

“At a time when so many of our children are facing a mental health or substance use crisis, school board members recognize the need to respond,” MHFA experience officer Tramaine EL-Amin said in a statement. “They also know that schools, families and teens themselves have an important role to play to address this crisis and they are eager to find tools that can make a difference.”