Roughly half (56 percent) of public schools moderately or strongly agreed that they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need, according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Seventy percent of public schools reported an increase in the percentage of their students seeking mental health services at school since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of schools also reported an increase in staff voicing concerns about their students exhibiting symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.

“We’ve seen an increase in students seeking mental health services and in staff voicing concerns about students’ mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “The pandemic has taken a clear and significant toll on students’ mental health. This snapshot of the pandemic’s mental health impact is critical in informing the need for student mental health services.”

During the 2021-22 school year, the most common type of mental health service provided by public schools was individual-based intervention (e.g., one-on-one counseling) at 84 percent of public schools, followed by case management (e.g., coordinating mental health support) at 70 percent, and external mental health referrals at 66 percent.

Nearly all (96 percent) public schools reported providing mental health services for their students during the 2021-22 school year. However, 88 percent of public schools did not strongly agree that they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need. The three most prevalent limitations identified by these schools that limit their ability to serve their students’ mental health needs were an insufficient number of mental health professionals to manage their school’s caseload, inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals, and inadequate funding.

The findings released today are from the latest round of the experimental, monthly School Pulse Panel (SPP). The panel was designed to be nationally representative of public primary, middle, high, and combined-grade schools, with data collected between April 12 and April 26, 2022. A total of 830 schools participated in the April collection.

The School Pulse Panel is part of NCES’s innovative approach to delivering timely information regarding the pandemic’s impact on public K-12 schools in the U.S. The survey provides reliable data focused on virus spread mitigation strategies, learning modes offered by schools, student and staff quarantine prevalence, and mental health needs of, and services provided to, students and staff, as reported by principals in U.S. public schools.

This is the fifth experimental data product from the School Pulse Panel. Experimental data products are innovative statistical products created using new data sources or methodologies. Experimental data may not meet all NCES quality standards but are of sufficient benefit to data users in the absence of other relevant products to justify release. NCES clearly identifies experimental data products upon their release.

The data released today can be found at the COVID-19 dashboard at https://ies.ed.gov/schoolsurvey/.

Key Findings:

Mental Health & Well-Being

  • Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, public schools have seen an increase in mental health concerns among their students. Seventy percent of public schools reported an increase in the percentage of their students seeking mental health services at school and 76 percent reported an increase in staff voicing concerns about their students exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma. In response, 67 percent of public schools reported having increased the amount or types of mental health services they provide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ninety-six percent of public schools reported providing mental health services for their students during the 2021-22 school year.
    • Among these public schools, the three most common types of mental health services provided were individual-based intervention (i.e., one-on-one counseling, 84 percent), case management (i.e., coordinating mental health support, 70 percent), and external mental health referrals (66 percent).
  • To help students cope with the pandemic, the three most common practices public schools implemented that addressed students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs were encouraging staff to address these needs (85 percent), providing teachers with additional professional development centered on these needs (56 percent), and creating or expanding programs focused on these needs (46 percent).
  • Fifty-six percent of public schools reported that they moderately agreed or strongly agreed that they can effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.
    • The 88 percent of public schools that did not strongly agree were asked which factors limited their efforts to effectively provide mental health services to all students in need. Those schools indicated that the three primary limitations are an insufficient number of mental health professional staff necessary to manage the school’s caseload (61 percent), inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals (57 percent), and inadequate funding (48 percent).
  • Over two-thirds (67 percent) of public schools reported taking various approaches to address their staff’s mental health needs during the pandemic.
    • The three most common types of approaches included proactive outreach (35 percent), additional professional development focused on mental health (35 percent), and giving staff increased prep time (32 percent).

Quarantine Prevalence

  • About 30 percent of public schools reported having a student in quarantine during the April collection window (compared to 31 percent in March).
  • There was an increase in quarantine prevalence for staff, with 15 percent of public schools having staff in quarantine during this time (compared to 8 percent in March).

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