Understanding and Addressing the Mental Health of High School Students

Research Partnership with Fluent

JED is always trying to better understand and serve high school students in order to help them live healthier lives. One of the ways we continue to learn is through our partnership with Fluent Research. We conducted a qualitative and quantitative study with high school students, caregivers of high school students, and high school administrators from across the country.

The study, which included a demographic mix of participants with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, geography, and income of 1,014 U.S. high school students in grades 9-12, their caregivers, and 479 high school administrators (344 principals/assistant principals, 129 school counselors, and six district superintendents) revealed that students’ mental health needs were significant and not being fully addressed in high schools.

*This data was collected at the end of 2019 (before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic).

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“I think schools have no choice but to be involved in [students’] mental and emotional wellbeing. We’re a consistent factor in their lives every day. We have a huge opportunity to model healthy emotional choices and guide them through developing their own healthy mental/emotional state. For some students, we may be the ONLY place they can get this.” – School counselor


Six Key Research Findings

1. Mental health was viewed by school administrators as a key issue for high school students.

School administrators rated students’ mental health lower than students’ physical health. Sixty-two percent rated physical health as excellent or very good, while only 51% rated students’ mental health and emotional well-being as excellent or very good. Seventeen percent of administrators rated students’ mental health as fair or poor—nearly two times higher than their rating of physical health (9%).

2. The risk for student suicide was a strong concern for school administrators and students.

53% of school administrators rated suicidal ideation to be a major or moderate problem among students at their schools.

 

3. Students from lower-income households were particularly vulnerable with regard to mental health issues.

Administrators at schools with a high proportion of students from lower-income households reported higher student suicidal ideation or completed suicides (53% versus 42%) in the past five years. Students with lower well-being scores were also more likely to be from lower-income households (51% versus 28% of students with higher well-being scores).

 

4. High school students who identified as female were more at-risk for mental health issues than those who identified as male.

Female-identified students were significantly more likely to report experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty managing emotions, and stress related to the college admissions process.

5. Administrators, caregivers, and students agree: It is time to address student mental health.

Both school administrators and caregivers believed it was the school’s responsibility to address students’ mental health and emotional well-being. This was especially true when it came to educating students on how to reach out for help if they needed mental health services (62% of administrators strongly agreed that this was the school’s role; 67% of caregivers strongly agreed that this was the school’s role). Additionally, 58% of school administrators and 62% of caregivers strongly agreed that it was the school’s responsibility to make efforts to prevent suicide among students.

6. Students need more mental health resources and strategies.

18% or fewer students felt that most students know healthy ways to cope with stress, available resources to help with mental health issues, and the signs of suicidal ideation. Only 12% of students felt that most other students would be willing to ask for help from a school adult for a mental health issue.

JED High School supports high schools in their quest to meet the mental health needs revealed by this study. It’s a public health, systematic approach that districts and individual schools can use to assess and strengthen their policies, programs, and systems that support emotional well-being and suicide prevention for students. The program encourages high schools to take an approach that incorporates strategic planning and cultural humility into plans around student mental health and suicide prevention. Learn more here.