Board members indicate strong support for resources that help teens identify and respond to mental health or substance use challenges, regardless of political orientation
Washington, D.C. (Jan. 25, 2023) – School board members nationwide consider student mental health the most pressing issue facing schools and students today, according to a new national survey of school board members commissioned by Mental Health First Aid USA® (MHFA), a course that teaches individuals how to identify, understand and respond to signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in their friends and neighbors.
Student mental health was the No. 1 concern for school board members: 86% reported being either “extremely concerned” (56%) or “very concerned” (30%), a higher level of extreme concern than was expressed for school funding (51%), staffing challenges (48%) and school safety (46%).
“At a time when so many of our children are facing a mental health or substance use crisis, school board members recognize the need to respond,” said Tramaine EL-Amin, MHFA client experience officer. “They also know that schools, families and teens themselves have an important role to play to address this crisis and they are eager to find tools that can make a difference. Since 2019, teen MHFA has proven to be a valuable resource to more than 700 schools in 36 states.”
This comes as the nation continues to grapple with a youth mental health crisis. Not only is suicide the third-leading cause of death for youth ages 15–19, but one in four adolescents age 12 to 17 have had a substance use disorder or a major depressive episode in the past year.
School board members see family and home life (66%), social media (57%) and bullying (44%) as the top three issues that most affect student mental health — more than disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (23%).
They also said they strongly believe that state and local policymakers should be doing a “great deal more” to address student mental health, with 69% saying state legislatures need to do a “great deal more,” and 62% saying county officials need to do a “great deal more.”
When it comes to recognizing the signs of a student experiencing a mental health challenge, including suicidal thoughts or behaviors, 80% of school board members rank parents, close family members and friends as most likely to see the signs.
Recognizing the signs is an important first step, but individuals also need the skills to help someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use challenge. teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) is an evidence-based training sponsored by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing to help teens in grades 10–12, or ages 15–18, identify the signs and symptoms of a mental health or substance use challenge in a friend. It teaches young people how to open a supportive conversation about mental health and substance use with friends and, most important, how to seek the help of a responsible and trusted adult.
When school board members were asked how important it was for high school students in grades 10–12 to have access to tMHFA or a similar program, 66% said it was either “extremely important” (31%) or “very important” (35%). These numbers remain strong regardless of self-identified political orientation.
More than 2.9 million adults in the United States have been trained in MHFA. Peer-reviewed studies show MHFA training increases learners’ knowledge of signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental health and substance use challenges, as well as their confidence in their ability and likelihood to help an individual in distress. Mental Health First Aiders also have greater ability to identify appropriate types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental health or substance use challenge. For more information on teen Mental Health First Aid, visit the MHFA website.
The survey of 344 current school board members was conducted Sept. 30 – Oct. 17, 2022, by Echelon Insights on behalf of Mental Health First Aid, sampled via web using a universe of current school board members. The margin of error, calculated for an unweighted sample of 344 current school board members, is +/-5.4%.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an evidence-based training program administered by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing that teaches individuals how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges. More than 2.9 million people across the United States have been trained in MHFA by a dedicated base of more than 15,000 Instructors.