The Great Resignation collides with the crisis of youth mental health.

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Between February 2020 and May 2022, more than 300,000 educators quit in the United States, citing concerns about safety, burnout, and low wages, among others. As a result, gaps in essential youth support have widened, negatively affecting the mental health of adolescents and young adults. While the reasons for the so-called Great Resignation are complex and understandable, the timing couldn’t be worse as American children and teens are experiencing a significant rise in mental health issues, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and d other leading medical groups. .

Schools provide an important nurturing environment for our young people, where they spend more than 13% of their lives shaping their academic future, personal identity, self-confidence and relationships. Today, approximately 15 million teenagers attend secondary schools in our country. While it is estimated that one in five young Americans suffers from a mental health disorder each year, less than half receive treatment. Of those connected to services, most initially receive them at school. Students of color, those from low-income families, and those with public health insurance are particularly likely to receive school-only mental health services.

Researchers consistently find that schools are key to promoting student well-being. They do this in part by creating safe and connected spaces for students and staff. It is especially important to cultivate cultures of care for young people who face significant challenges such as lack of sleep, food or security. A 2019 report published by the National Center for School Mental Health notes, “The past decade has documented the beneficial impact of evidence-based mental health and prevention programs on both long-term psychological outcomes and school performance. It is therefore not surprising that the surgeon general recommends creating “positive, safe and nurturing educational environments, expanding programs that promote healthy development (such as social and emotional learning) and providing a continuum of supports to meet social needs. , emotional, behavioral and mental health of children and young people.

But for all of this to happen, teachers, administrators and other support staff are needed, and the growing number of vacancies at all levels leaves many in survival mode with no excess capacity for training activities. strategic planning. In fact, schools and legislators are taking dramatic and potentially problematic steps just to ensure that schools are staffed and classes can be delivered. For example, Arizona eliminated the requirement for a degree to teach and hired current students as teachers. Florida is recruiting retired military veterans to fill teaching positions, and New Mexico has asked National Guard personnel to consider alternate teaching.

While some of these solutions provide short-term breaks for critical shortages, teachers without formal training are more likely to encounter difficulties in the post and are therefore more likely to leave the profession than fully qualified educators, creating a more great feeling of instability for the students. and other staff.

Any long-term solution will require an honest and solid review of Why qualified teachers are leaving at such high rates. A recent Gallup poll found that the top two occupations in the United States with the highest burnout were K-12 instructors and college and university educators. Other research has shown that one in five educators report that their students’ well-being affects their own mental health.

It’s no surprise that educators feel emotionally and mentally drained, as they often serve as counselors for their students. Educators are often the first to notice a struggling student or be the person a student turns to in times of need. Although the relationship between a student and a teacher is powerful and can foster feelings of connection, greater academic achievement, and increased emotional well-being, teachers are not trained to support students with persistent mental health issues or serious. Yet they often find themselves forced to be vicarious therapists, which is not good for their mental health and well-being or that of their students. For this reason, it is important that schools teach teachers to recognize early signs of struggle, know what to tell the student and when, where, and how to refer them to professional help if needed. The truth is that the current situation may get worse before it gets better, as it will take time to address the underlying challenges and needs that are driving the great resignation.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of government and community resources and supports that schools can take advantage of. Several resources are available, such as this Guide for Mental Health Federal Funding Opportunities for High Schools from the Jed Foundation (where I am CEO) and this Funding and Sustainability Guide from the National Center for School Mental Health. The Department of Education also issues public notices of funding opportunities.

Although funding for mental health services within school systems is a federal priority and is increasingly available, a significant number of schools lack the capacity to take advantage of these opportunities. Lack of bandwidth, staff and/or knowledge pose significant barriers to obtaining and using available funds. School administrators are also worried about what will happen to the new systems once the funds run out. Even when schools commit to hiring mental health professionals, they often don’t find people to fill the roles. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 19% of public schools reported vacancies for mental health professionals for the 2022-2023 school year.

As schools, communities, and local and federal governments do all they can to productively address current challenges, schools would benefit from adopting a public health strategy to optimize mental health promotion and prevention. suicide in their current and evolving environments. Identifying and developing formal approaches requires an initial investment of time and focus, but once established, would ensure early identification and remediation for struggling students (and staff).

Schools that lack internal capacity may consider partnering with local and/or national organizations, such as the Jed Foundation or the National Center for School Mental Health, to help them develop and implement individualized, actionable, and evidence-based mental health promotion and suicide prevention plans. Such partnerships can also be useful in identifying and mobilizing additional funding and other resources. In short, schools cannot and should not be expected to meet the challenges of this time alone.

High schools, colleges and universities can start by evaluating their current policies, programs and systems that support mental health to identify where they are succeeding and where there are areas for improvement, using an equitable lens to ensure that potentially marginalized or underserved students are considered and well served. It will then be important to develop a strategic plan to build on and expand strengths and invest resources to fill identified gaps.

Second, it is important and powerful to create communities of care outside the classroom to bridge support gaps and meet student needs. Establishing school-community partnerships leverages local resources and strengths and may include hospitals, behavioral health care providers, or designated mental health planners for each district. Although school staff shortages make it difficult to assign additional staff, having someone dedicated to overseeing the needs, climate, and opportunities for improvement within each school district can streamline progress and save money. long-term resources. Additionally, schools can work with community partners to determine how to meet short, immediate, and long-term needs given staff and other resource shortages.

The Great Resignation is just one example of the impact that stress and mental health issues can have on our functioning and the systems in which we operate. In order to address these challenges in our education systems, we need a multi-pronged approach in which the financial, emotional and professional needs of educators are understood and addressed, and where partnerships are built to help schools put implement comprehensive, evidence-based approaches to support school community mental health.

Fundamentally, funding alone is not the answer, nor is hiring more school counsellors. While both are important, they will fail if not paired with concrete strategies and resources to effect lasting change. Let us seize the opportunity to think and plan deliberately and holistically to improve and promote the well-being of all in our schools.

State of Mind is a partnership between Slate and Arizona State University that offers practical insight into our mental health system and how to improve it.

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