A National State of Emergency
In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association joined together to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health – a crisis exacerbated by the stress of the pandemic and inequities resulting from structural racism. The declaration cited soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality.
These mental wellness challenges are having a devastating effect on children and young people in their daily lives, including at school. To further understand the impact of children’s current mental health issues on learning, we surveyed our First Book Network – educators who work at Title I eligible schools and programs in underserved communities. The purpose of this study was to understand the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic was having on student mental health and the challenges facing educators in supporting their students’ mental health, and to identify resources educators need to better support the children they serve when a mental health professional or counselor is not a readily available option. For purposes of this survey, educators were asked to think of mental health broadly: focusing on the general mental health and emotional wellness of students.
About the Survey
First Book Research & Insights conducted the survey between December 13, 2021, and January 21, 2022, in partnership with On Our Sleeves, a national movement to break stigmas around children’s mental health. This survey report reveals insights from 967 nationwide educator respondents who support children in need ages 0-18.
Because of the cumulative impact that children in poverty have faced from the pandemic, along with challenging life experiences and compounding stressors related to race and culture, 98% of educators feel that current mental health challenges experienced by students are a barrier to education. While 85% of educator respondents believe that supporting student mental health in their class/program is a high or emergency priority in relation to their other classroom or program priorities this year, only 20% of educators feel adequately prepared to support their students’ mental health. Educators are also concerned about their own personal mental health and want additional resources that can help them support students’ emotional and mental wellness, both in their classrooms and programs and at home.
The pandemic has had detrimental effects on children’s mental wellness, both in terms of adding new challenges and worsening existing ones. Educators estimate that more than half (53 percent) of the students they serve are struggling with their mental health. Seventy-two percent of educators say the pandemic has introduced new mental health challenges among students and 65% say it has exacerbated existing mental health challenges.
While a trained mental health counselor is available at most schools/organizations, 36% of respondents work at schools/organizations that do not provide access to trained mental health counselors, and 60% work at schools/organizations that do not provide access to child psychologists. Additionally, 56% of respondents indicate that the schools/organizations where they work do not offer professional development for educators on how to support student mental health.
Students need help and resources more now than they ever have before and it is difficult to manage the increase in needs with an already overwhelming workload that accompanies a normal year. Educators need support for themselves as well as easy to implement supports for students.
First Book Network Educator
First Book is committed to supporting low-income communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and the data revealed in this survey is guiding us in providing educators with high-quality, research-driven tools to nurture emotional wellness and develop healthy habits that prepare students to not only learn but thrive.
Kyle Zimmer, President & CEO