Biden’s 2023 State of the Union Address focused on the status of the youth mental health crisis that the pandemic has only worsened. School mental health has always been important, as the CDC reports that: “in the decade preceding the pandemic, from 2009 to 2019, the proportion of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%. Additionally, communities of color are disproportionately undertreated—even as their burden of mental illness has continued to rise.” Here, we can see that the rate of students facing mental health issues before the onset of the pandemic almost doubled from 2009 to 2019.
There's no doubt that the stress and anxiety tied to the pandemic accelerated the youth mental health crisis. CDC data shows that within the first year of the pandemic, mental health emergencies increased 24% for children aged 5 to 11, and 31% for 12 to 17 year olds. Mental health is an issue and those who are affected vary, with communities of color being undertreated as their burden for mental illness continues to increase.
The Biden Administration’s State of the Union Address came just in time to help administrators address the youth mental health crisis that has swept across schools in the US. The White House Report on Mental Health Research Priorities from February 2023 also addresses a wide range of mental health concerns, with a focus on supporting youth mental health. Biden plans to address the youth mental health crisis by providing more funding opportunities, as well as making research priorities more culturally inclusive for school mental health programs and services.
Through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the government is “awarding hundreds of millions in grants to strengthen youth and community mental health services. And, we are in the midst of building a more robust pipeline of mental health providers, expanding school-based mental health services, and training first responders how to support individuals with mental health challenges.” Increasing funding towards mental health services increases availability, quality, and impact in school settings. Expanding the mental health workforce through increasing mental health services in schools and training first responders on how to support serious mental health issues are steps in the right direction.
Making mental health care work for all Americans is achieved by paying attention to how culture impacts stress and emotional management. The Biden Administration wants to focus on researching how to destigmatize and prevent mental health issues through practicing cultural competence in mental health care and accessibility. CDC data shows that Hispanic or Latino individuals and Black or African American people are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, relevant to populations reporting mental health issues during the pandemic. We have to think about the people and families who were hit harder by the pandemic to understand the gaps in mental health care for students. Having a stressful home environment can greatly increase a child's risk for poor academic performance and/or social behaviors, contributing to teacher and student stress.
Understanding different cultures and their perspectives on mental health is also important to improve mental health care equity and inclusion for all people. Mental health conditions have been associated with discrimination and bias, suggesting that culturally inclusive mental health care and research is a priority. Meeting people where they are in their own cultures, religions, and languages makes mental health care more accessible to the communities that need it most. Eliminating disparities in mental health care and research is key to making it accessible and beneficial to all people, and ultimately reducing the spike in mental illness and suicide in the US.
A strategy to improve inclusivity of mental health care can be achieved by CBPR, in which community members are involved in the entire research process, ensuring effective and appropriate interventions for the communities themselves. Learning about the students and families in our communities as administrators and mental health professionals is essential to providing quality, impactful care.
To address the discrepancy between available mental health providers and demand, digital mental health tools that are carefully cultivated can help fill the gaps. Scalability of digital mental health care interventions will be better if we meet people where they are and understand their culture. These digital tools can be accessed almost anywhere, promoting good mental health by improving early diagnosis and intervention as well as treatment and recovery plans. The Biden Administration hopes to offer funding for digital mental health companies that provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care.
Telehealth, machine learning, and research are important fields that can work together to treat the youth mental health crisis. Some examples of companies that Biden addressed in The State of the Union Address are Project ECHO, BRAIN, and the ABCD study. Project ECHO is working on increasing community providers’ access to expert knowledge through remote, real-time mental health care and consultations. The Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative has helped researchers understand the biological mechanisms for clinical diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues by gene identification linked to mental illness. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study® is funded by NIH with partnerships from other federal agencies, focusing on youth. It is a long-term study focused on child brain development and health in the US, with nearly 12,000 children enrolled. The study looks at how social media use, substance abuse, and other childhood experiences affect health outcomes like the development of mental health disorders. The ABCD study is an ethical way to involve students in getting the mental health care that they need in schools.
The Biden Administration wants to prioritize companies like these that connect Americans to high quality, inclusive, and accessible mental health care. Continuing research in the field of youth mental health is important in understanding what we can do to help block the mental health crisis from accelerating. Everyone should be able to access mental health care when and where they need it- leveraging technology for mental health care is a great idea to help with this agenda.
If you are interested in getting involved with school mental health, Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help you stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the author:
Ginger Freeman (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Santa Clara University studying Psychology, Public Health, and Asian Studies. Once she graduates, she plans to pursue a masters in counseling to become a licensed therapist. She is passionate about making mental health care more accessible and personalized, as well as applying zen theory to traditional psychotherapy. Through starting the conversation around mental health she hopes to reduce stigma and help people feel less alone! Outside of school, she enjoys spending time outside with friends, hot yoga, meditation, and listening to live music.