The National Crisis in K-12 Students’ Mental Health

A state of emergency

A state of emergency in children’s mental health was recently declared by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association.

“As health professionals dedicated to the care of children and adolescents,” the declaration states, “we have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the situation that existed prior to the pandemic. Children and families across our country have experienced enormous adversity and disruption.”

Concerning K-12 mental health trends

Lightspeed has also conducted research on the impacts to student mental health, and we’re also seeing concerning trends. This video discusses what we’ve observed nationally and what parents are saying and are worried about.

In addition, a recent study conducted by the CDC found that during 2020, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits among adolescents aged 12–17 years increased 31% compared with that during 2019. And, sadly, more than 3,000 teenagers in the US attempt suicide every day.

Student suicide prevention monitoring

The numbers are startling. To bring this topic to the forefront, Lightspeed held a webinar with a panel of experts to have an open dialogue about the signs of student depression, mental health issues K-12 students face, and how to improve mental health in schools.

Amy Grosso is the Board Chair for the Central Texas Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Director of Behavioral Health Services at Round Rock ISD, a district in Texas that has about 48,000 students. Given her expertise, we asked her to share some thoughts on how to support students who may be suffering from mental health issues.

“Mental health issues and suicide prevention is actually about early intervention and early alerts,” Amy said. “Noticing signs and symptoms before a crisis point so that counseling can be given, and support can be given to that student and to that family.”

One of the largest obstacles educators and families face is how to detect signs of student depression and concerning behavior so early intervention can occur and students who need help don’t slip through the cracks. During the webinar, Nicole Allien, the instructional technologist at Caddo Parish Public Schools, shared, “Within the first two weeks of using Lightspeed Alert™, we had 38 notifications of concerning online behavior and 16 of them resulted in an alert from your human review specialists.”

Nicole continued, “Just last week, I got an Alert. The student had searched, ‘what to do if you’re having suicidal thoughts?’ I picked up the phone to call the school and was able to connect with the principal. The student had just been released from a mental health facility, and the alert allowed us to get him the help he still needed.”

Nicole’s district uses Lightspeed Alert to help prevent on-site school violence and to identify students who may be at risk of self-harm, suicide, cyberbullying, and mental health issues. It’s a key component of their student suicide prevention monitoring strategy.

Ariana Marks, a Lightspeed Safety Specialist, has worked closely with Nicole and Caddo Parish Public Schools and has been involved in some of the alerts that have saved student lives. We asked her about her experience and the kind of alerts she’s seen thus far.

“The most common alert I see is for self-harm in the middle-school and high-school age group,” Ariana said. “I’m seeing a lot of kids talk about suicide or looking up ways to commit suicide.

“There was one self-harm alert that I had to escalate to an imminent threat. A student was looking up the suicide prevention hotline and researching resources for help. That was the trigger for me—I needed to call somebody because they were thinking about it right at that moment. I deemed it an imminent threat and escalated it to the district safety personnel. After I escalate a concern, I often can’t sleep until the district contacts me and lets me know the student is okay. They don’t have to, but I really appreciate it. Knowing that I caught something and helped a district prevent and intervene in a potential suicide.”

The discussion that occurred during this event was emotional and impactful. You can access the full recording of the webinar, Suicide Prevention: Getting Your Students the Care They Need, for free. In it, you’ll receive advice from subject matter experts on what other K-12 districts are doing to combat the mental health crisis and prevent student suicide.