Hopeful Futures Campaign calls on American schools to have comprehensive student mental health plans
Millions of school-aged children spent the last academic year trying to learn at home as the COVID-19 pandemic raged around them. For many, it wasn’t easy, and when they return to buildings in the fall, they are going to need extra support, experts say.
“If you look broadly at the mental health of students, we know that it’s overall worse, and it was pretty bad going into COVID,” said Andy Keller, the CEO and president of the Meadows Mental Health Institute.
That’s why an alliance of 11 nonprofits have banded together, calling for schools to be ready.
The Hopeful Futures Campaign, which launched Wednesday, aims to ensure every school in the nation has a comprehensive mental health plan in place for students when they return.
“You can’t just do one thing for student mental health, you have to do a whole host of things for a school to be addressing mental health correctly,” said Bill Smith, the founder of Inseparable, a nonprofit focused on increasing access to mental health care that spearheaded the campaign.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to get to students early, because we know that mental health issues often start early in life and investing in prevention and early intervention is really important.”
In 2020, emergency department visits related to mental health increased in children ages 5-11, up approximately 24% from 2019. For children aged 12-17, visits were up 31%, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In polling data released by the American Psychiatric Association earlier this month, 48% of adults with children under 18 at home reported the pandemic had caused mental health issues in one or more of their children. Data also showed 26% of parents reported seeking professional mental health treatment for their children because of the pandemic.
The Hopeful Futures Campaign includes well known organizations such as Active Minds, Bring Change to Mind, Healthy Schools Campaign, the Jed Foundation, the Kennedy Forum, Mindful Philanthropy, the National Center for School Mental Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Trevor Project and Well Being Trust.
Smith hopes the coalition will grow.
“We know there are a lot of other groups that care about adolescent mental health as well. So we’ll be reaching out to them and working to build and expand the coalition,” he said.
The strength of the effort stems from the organizations’ already well established networks, said Alison Malmon, founder of Active Minds, which hopes to bring in student voices.
“A really critical part of this type of advocacy is going to be hearing from the youth themselves who are impacted and allow them to use their voices to help make change within their schools and their communities and their school districts,” Malmon said.
Coalition members first plan to establish a baseline of what mental health services and support should be available in every school. Then, Smith says, they will reach out to state policymakers and legislators, work to secure funding and provide school districts with technical assistance to implement the system.
Sharon Hoover, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health, says the center has been working over the last few years to develop national standards for comprehensive school mental health systems.
Smith is hopeful the initiative will be an opportunity to put best practices into place for the benefit of all children.
“We call it the Hopeful Futures Campaign on purpose because this is to give every child in America the chance to have a hopeful healthy and productive future, by investing in their mental health starting at a really early age,” he said.