Supporting our students' mental health

What are school-based mental health resources?

Access to mental health support in schools is vital to ensuring every student has the opportunity to do their best work and sets them up for success later in life. Important mental health resources for students include access to specialized staff like nurses, social workers, psychologists and counselors who can spend 1-on-1 time with students to work through obstacles like family conflict or abuse. Access to these supports promotes mental health, allows for early intervention, reduces stigma, and supports academic success as well as safe and positive school climates.

Evidence supports the urgent need for greater investments in student mental health

Students are navigating a mental health crisis:

  • JLARC’s 2022 report on COVID-19’s  impact on public K-12 education called student mental health issues “concerningly prevalent” with half of middle school students and nearly two thirds of high school students reporting feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge. 
  • According to the same study, school staff share concerns about the prevalence and severity of student mental health across varying levels of school and schools’ demographics.
  • According to The Shape of Youth Mental Health in Virginia, half (47 percent) of students who attend public middle or high school in the state reported having a mental health need in the current or past-year.
  • While all of these issues were exacerbated by the pandemic, student mental health concerns have been trending upwards since prior to the pandemic.

Virginia schools are not adequately equipped to support student mental health:

  • In 2009, during the Great Recession, Virginia lawmakers created a cap on funding for support staff that limited state funding for school support positions, cutting hundreds of millions in state funding for essential support staff. This support cap remains in place, which severely limits state funding for support positions that are essential for supporting students’ mental health and well-being.
  • In comparison to pre-pandemic times, roughly a third of school districts are reporting a shortage of qualified mental health staff, impacting their ability to deliver daily services effectively to students.
  • Virginia schools employ far fewer mental health staff than staffing levels recommended by national associations. Additional school counselors, psychologists, and social workers would have a substantial positive impact on addressing issues with student mental health and well-being.

What works to improve student mental health outcomes?

When we prioritize student’s mental health, it allows them to focus on their classes and prepare for life after graduation. It’s time for Virginia lawmakers to ensure that every student has access to mental health support they need by:  

  • Increasing school support staff by boosting staff-to-student ratio to 1-to-250. Increased presence of counselors correlates with reduced disciplinary incidents and improved academic achievement. Schools offering mental health support also significantly mitigate the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma on students.
  • Increasing funding for the School-Based Mental Health Program that allows schools to invest in community service providers, hire additional mental health professionals, and offer resources such as calming spaces for students. Even in the early stages of this program, school officials have seen improvements in student stress and anxiety.