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High school students' mental health issues loom large for educators: Morgan Stanley survey

·3-min read

U.S. educators are not only concerned with their students' physical health this back-to-school season but also their mental health, according to a new survey from Morgan Stanley.

This survey is the next phase of a recently launched Reemergence program by the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health. This program provides support and resources for families and educators to address key mental health issues for the upcoming school year.

The survey found that 4 in 10 U.S. high school educators expect students with existing mental health conditions to return with exacerbated conditions. That represents the third most critical challenge to impact the quality of student learning this school year, behind deficits in student learning (47%) and economic hardship (42%).

“Mental health was really becoming one of the critical sources of death and disease in kids and obviously preventable in so many ways and treatable, but just it wasn’t getting paid attention to,” said Joan Steinberg, president of the Morgan Stanley Foundation and CEO of the Alliance’s advisory board. She tells Yahoo Finance that reemergence will be a huge issue with students going into the 2021-2022 school year.

“Young people had been sort of locked up for a year and a half. They’ve had fewer social interactions and all of a sudden are going to be sort of pushed back. And while everyone was so excited for school to reopen … they weren’t addressing the fact that a lot of those young people might have social anxiety about returning.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Steinberg noted that educators have been asked to support students academically "while also providing emotional, social, and behavioral support during this challenging time.” 

Students wear masks during class to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Santa Fe South High School where masks are required, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Students wear masks during class to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Santa Fe South High School where masks are required, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

Learning loss is also something that educators anticipate will affect the mental health of their students. “There’s also an increased pressure on [students] to try to catch up. So they’ve got the traditional pressures of school, pressures of returning to full classrooms, whatever concerns they may have from a physical perspective,” she added.

“Then they’ve got a year and a half of learning to try to catch up, and particularly for teens, if they’re applying to college, there was already so much stress and anxiety around those time frames. Now you’ve got all these added things, so I just think there’s a lot baked into what’s going to happen as the school year starts,” she added.

Steinberg does point out that one silver lining is that many students have begun to open up about their mental health issues. The survey also finds that 50% of educators report that their schools are highly prepared to deal with these incoming reemergence issues.

Based on the survey’s findings, the Alliance has put forward eight recommendations for high schools:

  1. Prepare for a different educational landscape.

  2. Expect and address emotional, social, and mental health needs to assess and address student readiness and support needs.

  3. Equip staff to notice and respond in functional and supportive ways to mental health needs.

  4. Create spaces and opportunities for youth to process and understand their experience.

  5. Focus on building connectedness.

  6. Establish connections with parents as early in the school year as possible.

  7. Prepare for an increased need in social support programs.

  8. Support staff needs

Methodology: Morgan Stanley commissioned Fluent Research to survey 552 high school educators in the U.S. online from June 12-July 8, 2021. Educators included 322 high school teachers, 134 high school counselors, social workers, and nurses, and 96 district and high school administrators (superintendents and principals).

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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