The student mental health crisis is real. Educators need tools that can help.
The mental health crisis that currently affects millions of K-12 students is also taking a huge toll on the school systems tasked with teaching those students and ensuring their safety.
Student mental health and the risk of teen suicide were already trending in the wrong direction prior to the pandemic, Dr. Kathleen Ethier, head of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Forbes. COVID has made the situation even worse.
According to a CDC study, last year more than a third of high school students said they’d experienced poor mental health during the pandemic—and 44 percent said they persistently felt sad or hopeless. Based on a survey of nearly 8,000 U.S. high school students, the study follows previous CDC research that noted a 40-percent rise in persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness amongst high school students from 2009 to 2019.
“The isolation and a lack of connectedness caused by the pandemic made what was largely an unstable situation even more fragile,” Forbes reports, “with students unable to access the human contact and in-person services they might normally tap for support.”
What schools can do to help
With anxiety, depression, and the threat of suicide rising sharply among students, educators need help in identifying those children and teens who are most at risk and connecting them with professional support.
Yet, as the American Psychological Association (APA) notes, school psychologists are in short supply, leaving students without enough support at school. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students. However, current NASP data show a ratio of one school psychologist for every 1,211 students.
Hiring more psychologists and other support staff can help schools address the student mental health crisis, and school systems can use some of the $190 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding provided by Congress to offset the effects of the pandemic for this purpose.
Training educators how to address students’ mental health challenges through the use of trauma-informed teaching practices is another solution, the APA says. So is helping educators recognize the warning signs of mental illness in their students. For instance, Mental Health Primers, developed by the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education, helps teachers identify classroom behaviors that are symptomatic of mental health concerns and connect those students with appropriate resources.
Real-time insight into students’ online activity
Having real-time insight into students’ online activity can also warn educators when students need mental health assistance. For instance, ContentKeeper’s award-winning school web filter includes real-time monitoring, analytics, and reporting to alert K-12 leaders of potentially harmful behavior before it’s too late.
The solution, which works across all platforms and web browsers, uses contextual analysis to evaluate students’ web searches, so searches like “To Kill a Mockingbird” wouldn’t be flagged—but “how to kill myself” would be.
In addition, ContentKeeper’s cloud-based Classroom Management and Wellbeing solution gives teachers real-time visibility into students’ computer screens, keeping students safe from harm to themselves or others by enabling educators to capture, record and flag the early warning signs of trouble.
After a wave of teen suicides left the community reeling, New Jersey’s Hamilton Township now relies on ContentKeeper as a key addition to its student safety initiatives. “In talking with parents and others, I firmly believe we have helped save lives,” says school psychologist Jeffrey Wellington.
To learn more about ContentKeeper’s behavioral intent alerting technology, click here. To learn how ContentKeeper’s Classroom Management and Wellbeing solution can enhance student safety, click here. To read how Hamilton Township’s use of ContentKeeper is a critical component in the district’s suicide prevention and mental health services, click here.
About the Author: The former editor of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce has more than 20 years of experience writing about education and technology.