- At least nine states — Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin — have enacted legislation around youth suicide prevention since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Education Commission of the States, which tracks state education policies.
- The pieces of legislation require schools to include suicide prevention hotline information on student identification cards, among other options like student planners and agendas in some states. States have also created grants to support suicide prevention or mental health support programs in schools, and, following previous years' trends, more states are requiring prevention training for school staff.
- According to the National Association of State Boards of Education's state policy database, last updated in 2019, at least 26 states required districts to adopt suicide prevention policies. Another eight encourage such policies.
Youth suicide rates have trended upward in recent years, with a 57% increase among 10-to-24-year-olds between 2007 and 2018. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health-related emergency department visits increased for children 18 and younger during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compared to 2019, the percentage of mental health-related visits for children ages 5-11 increased 24%, and visits for children ages 12-17 increased by 31%. Students also continue to report high levels of depression, anxiety and stress as barriers to learning.
Districts also noted an increase in mental health needs for students when schools when school were first forced to close due to the pandemic in March 2020. While school staff made a concerted effort to increase social-emotional support for students at the time, numbers from a YouthTruth survey suggest such support has declined over the past year.
Some districts, however, are prioritizing students' social-emotional wellbeing as they return for in-person instruction by focusing on building relationships, facilitating peer connections, and creating a welcoming environment. Results include an increase in attendance, a decrease in office referrals, and students using SEL strategies in and outside of school settings.
A number of districts are partnering with local universities and programs to provide trauma-focused training for school staff and families. Other creative approaches include schools distributing resource guides with school lunches or manning hotlines.
To fund such efforts, districts are investing federal aid dollars in programs and supports. Chicago Public Schools, for example, is investing $24 million to increase its behavioral support teams over the course of three years. Investment is also coming from the highest levels of government, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pledging $85 million in funding to address growing mental healthcare demands for children and adolescents.