“Let’s do more on mental health, especially for our children. When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental healthcare at their schools.”

—President Joe Biden, 2023 State of the Union


The nation’s mental health crisis is top of mind for families and educators who have faced significant hardship and adversity from the COVID-19 pandemic — with more than 300,000 students having lost a parent or caregiver — as well as ongoing violence in communities across the nation.

In 2018 and 2019, suicide rates in the United States were starting to decline. Then, the pandemic struck, and suicide rates jumped back up. According to a 2020 nationally representative survey, 37% of students in grades 9-12 reported experiencing poor mental health. Nearly 1 in 5 students seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 10 attempted suicide.

But suicide isn’t the only concerning sign of the state of students’ mental health. In the 2021-22 school year, more than 80% of public schools reported that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected students’ behavior and social-emotional development. Article after article has reported school leaders and educators having difficulty with student behavior. And it’s no surprise. Students have experienced illness and even death of loved ones, social isolation, changes in routine, financial hardship in their families, and other factors all compounded by the pandemic. Returning to in-person learning was always going to be a dramatic shift in which students would require more holistic support, but the systems in place were woefully unprepared to provide that support — and those systems have yet to change.

Ed Trust applauds the President highlighting student mental health as a priority for his administration in the coming year. During last year’s State of the Union, the president called for a $1 billion dollar federal investment to address the mental health crisis. Schools and districts must have the resources to invest in school counselors and mental health services. But the investment and changes to support student mental health cannot stop there. School discipline policies need to move away from corporal punishment and exclusionary tactics toward practices that are known to support students’ social and emotional learning, such as restorative practices. Curriculum needs to be more inclusive and reflective of students’ diverse backgrounds to foster a sense of belonging. Family engagement needs to lead the way to ensure schools are providing the right supports. School counselors and school psychologists need to be a top priority in hiring staff to support student well-being. And students need educators from diverse backgrounds who are well-trained to support their academic and holistic development.

This won’t be an easy task, but it will take an overhaul of effort to be a priority both for students’ well-being and for school staff to create a positive learning environment for students and themselves.