- Students are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis
- Technology can be a powerful ally in positive mental health
Researchers have long speculated that the increasing use of technology and social media among teenagers contributes to worsening mental health outcomes. Now, it can be an important tool to help schools address an unprecedented mental health crisis.
In addition to traditional triggers for poor mental health, like exposure to adversity, in-process coping mechanisms, substance use, and other factors, students are grappling with novel challenges. This includes the long-tail effects of a global pandemic, and frighteningly frequent instances of violence at school and in communities, creating a perfect storm for a mental health crisis.
Unsurprisingly, the kids are not all right.
According to a recent survey that gathered input from more than 350 school social workers, teachers, counselors, administrators, and district leaders, 85 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that students are more stressed and anxious than in previous school years.
“The impact this is having is heartbreaking. Students are struggling in ways I have not seen in the 20+ years I have been a school social worker,” one school social worker said when responding to the survey. “The anxiety and stress impacts academics, attendance, social skills, social interactions with adults and peers, and their friendships.”
Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents shared this sentiment, saying they agree or strongly agree that stress and anxiety negatively impact academic outcomes, offering critical context to plummeting math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national exam commonly referred to as the nation’s report card.
Simply put, ensuring students thrive academically requires helping kids thrive holistically. In this way, technology can actually be part of the solution, not just an underlying problem.
Here are three ways schools can use technology to support positive mental health outcomes for students.
1. Create critical connections
Teachers, coaches, and school counselors are often the first people to notice mental health problems. This is excellent news because struggling students are often willing to open up to trusted adults.
In total, 70 percent of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that students are willing to communicate their needs and ask for help from a trusted adult at school. However, students’ openness is only an asset if staff can confidently use that information to connect students with necessary resources.
Unfortunately, 85 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that they wish they had more tools or resources to help students address their mental health challenges.
Today, many schools rely on improvisational and relational systems to make these connections. For example, teachers or coaches have reported using hallway conversations, shared documents, or email messages to communicate student needs with counselors, administrators, and other support staff.
This is a recipe for letting students fall through the cracks.
Collaborative case management solutions provide schools with the tools to tackle pressing issues. Instead of depending on basic or makeshift reporting methods, advanced digital documentation and joint case management systems empower staff to seamlessly connect students with essential support.
2. Expand access to key services
Since 2021, 70 percent of public schools report seeing more students seeking mental health support at school. Frighteningly, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 56 percent of public schools “moderately or strongly agreed that they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.”
Specifically, many schools are struggling to hire enough social workers and guidance counselors. As PBS reported earlier this school year, “many school mental health professionals have caseloads that far exceed recommended limits, according to experts and advocates, and students must wait for urgently needed help.”
Digital tools and services can help bridge the widening gap between the demand for mental health services and schools’ ability to provide them.
Schools can provide access to online platforms where students can access resources, participate in self-guided therapies, or connect with mental health professionals for counseling and therapy sessions.
Forbes helpfully compiled a list of the best online therapy tools for teens, and with many students already comfortable communicating online, these digital resources can be vital to ensuring that every student has access to the services they need to thrive.
3. Teach and train staff & students
Schools can harness the power of digital resources to teach and train staff and students about mental health challenges and potential solutions by leveraging a diverse array of online platforms, tools, and multimedia content. Implementing e-learning modules, webinars, and virtual workshops can facilitate a deeper understanding of mental health topics, enabling staff to recognize early warning signs and adopt effective intervention strategies.
Furthermore, interactive online courses featuring engaging videos, quizzes, and case studies, can empower students and educators to develop resilience, coping mechanisms, and self-care practices.
Finally, schools leverage social media campaigns and digital storytelling to create awareness around mental health challenges, destigmatize conversations, and encourage help-seeking behavior. By collaborating with mental health professionals, schools can develop and curate high-quality, evidence-based digital content tailored to their needs.
It’s clear that students are encountering a profound and multifaceted mental health crisis. As educational leaders, we can, and we must, do everything we can to support their overall well-being.
While technology has often been viewed as a contributing factor to deteriorating mental health, it can also serve as a powerful ally in promoting positive mental health outcomes. Technology alone won’t solve the problem, but it can be a powerful tool, helping schools provide the support students need to thrive.