The only organization dedicated solely to helping state boards advance equity and excellence in public education.

NASBE Analysis Offers Policymakers Key Questions to Support Student Mental Health


Alexandria, VA – In an Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health issued this week, the U.S. Surgeon General called for a “swift and coordinated response” to a mental health crisis facing America’s youth and families, brought on, in part, by the pandemic. A new NASBE analysis offers six key questions state boards of education and other education leaders can ask to address student mental health.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three high school students said they had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the last year, a 40 percent increase from the decade preceding COVID. Suicidal behaviors among high school students also increased.

Many states have acted to address student mental health. According to NASBE’s State Policy Database on School Health, 42 states require or encourage professional development related to mental health. Twenty-two states require mental health first aid training for educators. Thirteen states have a policy requiring states to implement parent education and support. States can expand this work by asking the following:

  1. What state assets address student mental health? Examining existing policies, services, and available funding can help states avoid duplicative or unnecessary programs and ensure that policy decisions improve rather than impede student mental health.
  2. What is the state of students’ mental health? Data collected by CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, as well as data on chronic absenteeism and results from school climate surveys, can help state leaders understand the scope of student mental health, subgroup differences, and other contributing factors so they can better direct resources.
  3. What partnerships can be leveraged? State boards can convene mental health experts and create taskforces inclusive of students to help shed light on needs, potential solutions, and service coordination issues.
  4. What mental health education do students receive? State boards can adopt age-appropriate standards and examine requirements for graduation, learning time, and accountability to promote mental health education.
  5. How is our state building adult capacity to support student mental health? Equitable distribution of trained mental health professionals in schools, especially in areas where students face the greatest barriers to mental wellness, is a critical need. States should also ensure that teachers receive training to support student mental health.
  6. What can be done to eliminate mental health stigma? State boards can help create a safe environment for students to seek mental health services by increasing public awareness and understanding of the importance of student mental health and sharing information on available services and resources.

“Student mental wellness mattered long before the pandemic. However, for many students whose lives and schooling were disrupted by COVID, there is an acute need for increased services, education, and supports,” writes NASBE’s Megan Blanco. “By grounding policy decisions in the school mental health landscape and data on student needs, state boards can more efficiently and intentionally identify the policy adjustments needed to ensure that all students have what they need to be healthy and ready to learn.”

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

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