Student Health and Wellness Critical to Ensuring Safe Schools
Educational communities must prioritize health and wellness, recognizing that the welfare of each student impacts the collective well-being.
Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.
The 2022-2023 school year was brutal for many students and school communities. After consecutive pandemic years, social disruption, economic and ecological upheaval, and the anticipated angst of adolescence coalesced to create historically bad mental health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of high school students report feeling “persistently sad or hopeless.”
This has far-reaching and incredibly devastating consequences.
Research consistently indicates that a student’s mental and emotional wellness directly impacts their academic achievements, behavior, and social interactions. A student battling anxiety, depression, or chronic stress is more likely to face academic challenges, have attendance issues, and might even engage in risky or disruptive behaviors. In other words, student mental health and school safety are inextricably linked, and the new school year presents an opportunity to address both with solutions that maximize impact and promote holistic student wellness.
Here are three ways schools can achieve that as they begin this new school year.
1. Anticipate Changes
New years don’t always bring fresh starts, and schools should anticipate that many of last year’s challenges will continue this year even as new problems inevitably emerge. That’s why school decision-makers, social workers, guidance departments, teachers, and other stakeholders should start the year with their eyes wide open, preparing resources ahead of time to ensure they can meet students’ evolving needs.
For example, since 2021, 70% of public schools report seeing more students seeking mental health support at school. However, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 56% of public schools “moderately or strongly agreed that they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.”
Specifically, many schools are struggling to hire enough social workers and guidance counselors. As PBS reported earlier this school year, “Many school mental health professionals have caseloads that far exceed recommended limits, according to experts and advocates, and students must wait for urgently needed help.”
In response, consider available solutions and prepare resources accordingly — whether advocating for increased budget resources to hire more school social workers or leveraging digital tools and services to help close the gap between supply and demand for mental health services in schools. Not only does this support student development, but investing in mental health services improves school safety and student academic performance, allowing schools to tackle many problems simultaneously.
As SchoolSafety.gov, a collaborative, interagency website created by the Federal government to provide schools and districts with actionable recommendations to create safe and supportive learning environments, explains, “By supporting students who are experiencing mental health challenges, schools can help foster a sense of safety and promote better academic and behavioral outcomes. Providing access to mental health services can reduce mental, emotional, and behavioral difficulties with students at risk.”
2. Collaborate to Maximize Impact
To be sure, even with adequate staffing, school social workers alone can’t tackle the teen mental health crisis or ensure that schools remain safe places for kids to come and learn. Holistic wellness is everyone’s responsibility, and helping students succeed will require all stakeholders to collaborate effectively to maximize impact.
Simply put, for school social workers to truly make a difference, isolation isn’t an option. Collaborative case management tools enhance their network, augmenting their capability and broadening their influence.
When school communities collaborate, the impact can be enormous. Research by Rutgers University found that one community’s initiative that “pools social-service providers together in an effort to offer improved support” created more stable social support and financial stability throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
When coupled with a one-front-door intake policy, which allows students to share their stories while gaining access to various services that can address many challenges, schools can help students account for many factors that can contribute to safe schools and holistic student safety in any circumstance.
For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that one-third of people experiencing housing insecurity also experience mental health or substance abuse challenges.
3. Empower People to Take Action
The new school year offers a once-a-year opportunity to teach and train personnel to identify at-risk students and implement solutions that work.
To achieve this, schools can tap into digital tools to educate their staff and students about mental health issues and potential remedies. By using a variety of online platforms, applications, and multimedia, they can foster knowledge and awareness. E-learning segments, online seminars, and virtual workshops can deepen insights into mental health, allowing educators to spot early signs and implement effective response measures.
Moreover, by utilizing social media campaigns and digital narratives, schools can amplify awareness of mental health issues, normalize related discussions, and promote proactive help-seeking.
New School Years Bring New Opportunities to Make An Impact
The challenges of the previous school years have underscored the inextricable link between student mental wellness and the overall safety and efficacy of the educational environment. While the problems are complex, solutions are within reach when stakeholders act proactively, collaborate effectively, and harness the power of modern tools.
As we step into the 2023-2024 school year, it is imperative that educational communities prioritize health and wellness, recognizing that the welfare of each student impacts the collective well-being.
By integrating robust mental health initiatives, leveraging digital tools, and fostering widespread collaboration, schools can provide an environment where every student not only feels safe but thrives academically and emotionally.
Gary Pettengell is CEO of ECINS (Empowering Communities through Integrated Network Systems), the global provider of a uniquely collaborative, cloud-based student support and case management system dedicated to helping schools more efficiently and effectively implement and execute mental health support for students.
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