Three Strategies to Support K-12 Students with Their Mental Health Challenges


Three Strategies to Support K-12 Students with Their Mental Health Challenges

Superintendents in every state identified students’ mental health as a top-three concern last school year. This focus is no surprise, as recent studies found depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. While K-12 leaders try to mitigate negative impacts on student mental health in schools, some contributors, like COVID-19 and media influence, are beyond their control. Further, a chronic shortage of community providers puts the responsibility for child mental health on schools.

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Despite these constraints, we have identified three opportunities district leaders can take now with their current resources to address the student mental health crisis more effectively.

1. Invest in universal screening to identify anxiety and depression symptoms

Universal screeners can improve student outcomes while reducing district costs and resource constraints, as most do not require specialized training to administer. Students their parental guardians, and teachers answer a series of questions that assess if a student needs additional mental or behavioral support. These screeners identify students who need services before a mental health crisis occurs, helping administrators take a proactive approach to student well-being management. When selecting a screener, districts should choose the best one to meet their budget and current needs.

2. Implement small group interventions, like group therapy, to ensure more students have access to mental health resources at scale

Often, students referred to counselors need intensive, one-on-one therapeutic care. This stream of high-need students leads to unmanageable caseloads for school support staff. By embracing group therapy (e.g., Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), schools can provide care to more students while reducing the strain on counselors and district budgets. School districts seldom implement group therapy interventions as school support staff perceive them as inferior to individual counseling, however research shows that group therapy is a proven, highly effective method in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

3. Create a coordinated re-entry process to successfully reintegrate students returning from crises

Too often, districts lack dedicated pathways to support students with reintegration after taking time off from school during a mental health crisis. The combination of incomplete treatment and an anxiety-ridden return frequently leads to repeated crises in students. Students need support bridging back into their day-to-day routines, completing their course of care, reintegrating socially, and catching up on their academics. Creating a structured, gradual reentry program that combines clinical care, academic support, and family engagement ensures students fully reintegrate into their daily life without relapse.

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