Responding to the National Student Mental Health Crisis

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With a resurgence of the pandemic—and the reminder of its lasting damage because we will mark 1 million who have died from it this week—it is time to declare a national emergency and organize a national crisis-response to identify and support the effect of this pandemic on the mental health of our K-16 students.

I’m not alone in recognizing the serious and urgent nature of this situation. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Additionally, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has released an advisory focused on supporting youth mental health, in which he writes: “It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place.”

BY SEN. JACKY ROSEN (D-NEV.) 02/24/22 11:15 AM ET

Timely Response

What is evident is that our response time is so slow that the crisis deepens while we watch. Some children identify to adults that they are in trouble, but adequate therapist availability is months or years away. Some children do not alert adults, and simply take their own life before we identify them as being at risk. Some estimates of the size of this mental health crisis are half of all K-12 children need help—that would put the number at about 26.5 million of our 53 million students. A few million children may be getting some help, but our slow response in identifying the size of the problem and responding to the sheer numbers is cause for ringing the bell of warning to all adult educators and parents.

Immediate Crisis Response and Emergency Intervention

Crisis response refers to all the advance planning and actions taken to address natural and man-made disasters, crises, critical incidents, and tragic events. Of course, in an emergency, you should always call 911. However, in some cases, having a crisis response and intervention plan can be helpful as well.

Maryville University

Crisis intervention is beneficial because it can mitigate adverse reactions, facilitate coping and planning, assist in identifying and accessing available support, normalize reactions to the crisis, and assess capacities and need for further support or referral to the next level of care.

Maryville University

The three main goals of crisis intervention are:

Stabilize

Reduce symptoms

Return to adaptive functioning or to facilitate access to continued care

Maryville University

In regards to a suicidal crisis on school grounds, some key principles to remember are:

Be direct

Be honest

Debrief all teachers and staff of the current situation

Ensure that the student in crisis is safe

Inform parents (when the time is right)

Inform the student of what is happening at all times

Keep other students safe

Know your limits

Listen to the student

Monitor your surroundings

Send someone for help

Maryville University

Emotional Intelligence and Healthy Coping Skills

Parents and teachers can help prevent mental health crises by helping adolescents and teens develop emotional intelligence and healthy coping skills.

Maryville University

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