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As Teen Mental Health Worsens, Schools Learn How to Help

0 2 years ago

If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you can get help by calling the confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.

Teen mental health already was deteriorating before the coronavirus pandemic. In the two years since, the isolation, grief and anxiety created by school closures, deaths and loss of family income have led to even steeper declines in children’s mental health, experts say.

Awash in federal pandemic relief money—roughly $190 billion in education and health grants over the next four years—states are responding.

Last year, 38 states enacted nearly 100 laws providing additional resources to support mental wellbeing in K-12 schools, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy, a Portland, Maine-based policy research group. Dozens of additional school mental health bills became law this year in at least 22 states, according to the group.

“That’s a huge increase in legislative activity over anything we’ve seen in recent years,” said Tramaine EL-Amin, client experience officer at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, a nonprofit that represents mental health providers.

“The pandemic shined a spotlight on our children’s mental health,” she said. “There’s no question that it’s something we need to pay attention to and that we need to act pretty quickly so that things don’t get worse.”

Broadly, the new state laws aim to upgrade school mental health resources and create comprehensive plans to prevent teen suicides and promote child mental wellbeing.

A central theme in many of the pandemic-inspired new laws is mental health training.

At least 16 states, from Alaska to Massachusetts, plus the District of Columbia, now require K-12 teachers and other school staff to take training courses on how to recognize mental distress in students and what to do when they see it.

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington enacted new laws recommending high school students take mental health training courses so they can help their friends, family and classmates.


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