New survey commissioned by Mental Health First Aid USA® (MHFA) finds student mental health is No. 1 concern for school board members
A strong education is essential to a student’s success and wellbeing. Reading, writing and arithmetic should always form the core of a curriculum.
But in the wake of the pandemic, we’ve all come to understand that helping young people thrive in the world requires more instruction, so it’s important to examine opportunities we may not have had available when we were kids.
The nation continues to grapple with a youth mental health crisis. Not only is suicide the third-leading cause of death for youth ages 15–19, but one in four adolescents age 12 to 17 have had a substance use disorder or a major depressive episode in the past year.
But what is the appropriate role of schools in fostering wellbeing among our young people? No doubt, it begins with a strong collaboration between parents, teachers and school administrators. The question is: How do we do that?
A new national survey commissioned by Mental Health First Aid USA (MHFA) provides some answers. According to the survey, school board members see student mental health as their biggest concern, with 86% being either “extremely concerned” (56%) or “very concerned” (30%) about it, a higher level of extreme concern than was expressed for school funding (51%), staffing challenges (48%) and school safety (46%).
School board members are desperate to do more to address the growing student mental health crisis. And they want more support from state and local policymakers, with 69% of school board members saying that state legislatures need to do a “great deal more,” and 62% saying county officials need to do a “great deal more.”
How can we help schools act on that concern? One clear place to start is fostering the skills to recognize the signs of a student experiencing a mental health challenge, including suicidal thoughts or behaviors. And that’s where parents, close family members and friends come in — 80% of school board members believe that’s who is most likely to see the signs of a young person’s mental health issues.
Recognizing the signs is an important first step, but individuals also need the skills to help someone a with mental health or substance use challenge. teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) is an evidence-based training administered by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing that helps teens identify the signs and symptoms of a mental health or substance use challenge in a friend or peer. It teaches young people how to open the conversation about mental health and substance use with friends and, most important, how to seek the help of a responsible and trusted adult.
When school board members were asked how important it was for high school students in grades 10–12 to have access to tMHFA or a similar program, 66% said it was either “extremely important” (31%) or “very important” (35%). These numbers remain strong regardless of self-identified political orientation.
At a time when we seem to be divided on so many topics, I am so encouraged to see that school board members are united in recognizing the need to do more when it comes to addressing youth mental health.
As we begin a new year, we must redouble our commitment to addressing the student mental health crisis. There are so many ways we can each make a difference, and they begin with the skills taught in tMHFA — developing greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of a mental health challenge and, in doing so, reducing stigma that can keep people from getting the help they need to recover.
Just think what a great new year it could be if more people — of every age — had those skills and knew how to use them.
So if you’re looking for a way to make a difference in 2023, reach out to your local school board or youth serving organization and encourage them to learn more about tMHFA. It may feel like a small step, but I am confident that, together, we can save many young lives.
Because we want to provide you with the resources to introduce teen Mental Health First Aid in your community, we will present an informational webinar where we will continue this important conversation and help you offer support for those with a mental health challenge. Please consider joining this free webinar presented by Mental Health First Aid USA.
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing