Protecting Youth Mental Health 
The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory
Good morning, 

Last week, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an official advisory on protecting youth mental health. As school leaders, educators and parents know, today's generation of students face unprecedented challenges that are uniquely hard to navigate. And recent surveys have confirmed that young people report persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely compounded issues of mental and physical wellbeing. As stated by the Surgeon General, "the pandemic era's unfathomable number of deaths, pervasive sense of fear, economic instability, and forced physical distancing from loved ones, friends, and communities have exacerbated the unprecedented stresses young people already faced. It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place." 

Educators and school professionals are uniquely positioned to partner with families to best support student social, emotional, and academic wellbeing in our classrooms and schools. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) encourages school communities to read the latest Surgeon General Advisory to understand the position of young people better and implement the recommendations offered in the advisory. 

Below are some of the recommendations and resources available at ADE to support this work:
  • Create positive, safe, and affirming school environments. This could include developing and enforcing anti-bullying policies, training students and staff on how to prevent harm (e.g., implementing bystander interventions for staff and students), being proactive about talking to students and families about mental health, and using inclusive language and behaviors.
    • The Arizona Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Course is a FREE online, self-paced, self-guided course. It focuses on understanding the ADE adopted CASEL SEL Competencies and implementing social-emotional learning systemically and systematically within schools or organizations. There are three-course options: Individual Educators, Teams, and Train the Trainer. Please click on the link for more information: Arizona SEL Course.
  • Expand social and emotional learning programs and other evidence-based approaches that promote healthy development. Examples of social, emotional, and behavioral learning programs include Sources of Strength, The Good Behavior Game, Life Skills Training, Check-In/Check-Out, and PATHS.
  • Learn how to recognize signs of changes in mental and physical health among students, including trauma and behavior changes. Take appropriate action when needed. Educators are often the first to notice if a student is struggling or behaving differently than usual (for example, withdrawing from normal activities or acting out). And educators are well-positioned to connect students to school counselors, nurses, or administrators who can further support students, including by providing or connecting students with services.
  • Provide a continuum of supports to meet student mental health needs, including evidence-based prevention practices and trauma-informed mental health care. Tiered supports should include coordination mechanisms to get students the right care at the right time. For example, the Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) program provides funds for state, local, and tribal governments to build school-provider partnerships and coordinate resources to support prevention, screening, early intervention, and mental health treatment for youth in school-based settings. Schools could also improve the sharing of knowledge and best practices. For example, districts could dedicate staff at the district level to implementing evidence-based programs across multiple schools. Districts could also implement mental health literacy training for school personnel (e.g., Mental Health Awareness Training, QPR training). 
    • ADE's Project AWARE team offers several resources for educators, including QPR training, an online, self-paced program that takes about 1-2 hours to complete. Learn more on our Project AWARE webpage.  
  • Expand the school-based mental health workforce. This includes using federal, state, and local resources to hire and train additional staff, such as school counselors, nurses, social workers, and school psychologists, including dedicated staff to support students with disabilities. For example, a lack of school counselors makes it harder to support children experiencing mental health challenges. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends 1 counselor for every 250 students, compared to a national average of 1 counselor for every 424 students (with significant variation by state). The American Rescue Plan's Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds can be used for this purpose and for other strategies outlined in this document.
  • Support the mental health of all school personnel. Opportunities include establishing realistic workloads and student-to-staff ratios, providing competitive wages and benefits (including health insurance with affordable mental health coverage), regularly assessing staff wellbeing, and integrating wellness into professional development. In addition to directly benefitting school staff, these measures will also help school personnel maintain their own empathy, compassion, and ability to create positive environments for students.
  • Promote enrolling and retaining eligible children in Medicaid, CHIP, or a Marketplace plan, so that children have health coverage that includes behavioral health services. The Connecting Kids to Coverage National Campaign also has outreach resources for schools, providers, and community-based organizations to use to encourage parents and caregivers to enroll in Medicaid and CHIP to access important mental health benefits. Families can be directed to or Schools can use Medicaid funds to support enrollment activities and mental health services.
  • Protect and prioritize students with higher needs and those at higher risk of mental health challenges, such as students with disabilities, personal or family mental health challenges, or other risk factors (e.g., adverse childhood experiences, trauma, poverty)

Additional resources provided by the Surgeon General: 
Read the full U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory

Arizona Department of Education

1535 W Jefferson Street, Phoenix, AZ

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