Heading back to school can be challenging for teenagers and young adults. Factors that can impact a student’s mental health include changing schedules, more difficult classes, new social situations, and the pressure to succeed. This year, these challenges have been magnified by the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
We know it’s hard to watch students struggle with their well-being at a time when they should be exploring new interests, joining activities, and making friends. That’s why The Jed Foundation (JED) is urging adults to add student mental health prep to their back-to-school checklist, alongside tasks like shopping for school supplies and choosing meal plans. JED encourages parents, caregivers, and educators to learn how to help their students enter their new school year with confidence—while providing them with tools to cope with any challenges if and when they emerge.
Meet students where they are
First, it’s important to understand where students are coming from so that you’re able to be present for them, meet them where they are, and connect them with the most appropriate resources.
According to recent studies:
- 44% of high school students said they feel excessively sad or hopeless.
- Depression symptoms have risen from 21% to 32% in 18- to 29-year-olds since 2019, while anxiety symptoms have risen from 20% to 40%.
- Over 60% of college students met the criteria for one or more mental health problems in the past school year, a 50% increase from 2013.
- 70% of public schools are seeing an uptick in students seeking mental health support.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated feelings of disconnectedness and uncertainty; for many, it also introduced profound feelings of loss and grief. As students were acclimating to virtual classes and the threat of contagion, there was a pervasive climate of social and political unrest throughout the United States. Since 2020, young people have experienced increased rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, with rates higher for certain marginalized groups, including LGBTQ youth and people of color.
But even before the pandemic, rates of depression anxiety, and suicidal ideation were on the rise in adolescents and young adults. These factors spurred the American Academy of Pediatrics to declare an emergency in child and adolescent mental health in 2020. By 2021, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a public health advisory on the current state of youth mental health in the U.S.
How to support students
JED provides resources for young people at every grade level and every stage of development, such as within our back-to-school hub and throughout our Mental Health Resources Center.
But protecting one’s emotional and mental well-being is not something to tackle alone. Students who receive emotional support from adults are more likely to succeed in new environments and have better coping skills.
To create a well-rounded culture of caring for the student in your life as they head back to school, here is an overview of our resources:
- Parents and caregivers can learn how to connect with the young person in their life, explore our Know the Warning Signs guide, and share the Pressure to Be Perfect toolkit. These resources can be used to help parents recognize when a student needs help and provide them with a space to start the conversation.
- Educators can download our Faculty Guide to Supporting Student Mental Health, which outlines evidence-based methods for boosting their students’ emotional well-being, and promote JED’s Text, Talk, Ready Set Go program, which was created to help high school graduates transition into their first year of college. School administrators can also bring JED to their high school or college by reaching out here.
- Students can map out their year with JED’s back-to-school resource page: “You Are Here.” This theme encourages students to center themselves and their emotional well-being. It includes the “Just Press Pause” experience, which provides students with practices to bolster confidence, gain a greater sense of calm, and improve connectedness, along with the Mental Health College Guide, a resource made in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
This can be a demanding time for students, and it is crucial they do not face it alone. Your support, combined with access to mental health care as needed, and the encouragement to develop life skills, will help students navigate any emotional hurdles as they head back to school and acclimate to their “new normal.”
Remember: It’s never too late to start a conversation with the young people in your life about mental health. Obstacles don’t always manifest by the first day, or in predictable ways. It’s good to be proactive about your efforts—before the back-to-school excitement is replaced by the reality of routine, creating space for anxiety, doubts, or other emotional challenges.
If you notice a student struggling, we hope these resources will serve as a first line of defense; however, please be sure that your student knows they can speak with a crisis counselor anytime, for free, by texting 741-741, and can now access the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.