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COVID-19 Pandemic and Racial Trauma Have Caused Unprecedented Disruption Among Youth; School-Based Supports Can Help Address Mental Health Concerns

News Release | July 8, 2021

WASHINGTON — The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened racial trauma have caused an unprecedented disruption in the lives of youth ages 10-18, leading to an increase in mental health concerns. Schoolwide mental health screenings, rebuilding relationships with teachers and peers, and providing additional resources to reduce stress and anxiety can help address students mental health needs, says a new rapid expert consultation from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Disrupted sleep, school closures, social isolation, financial hardship, and racial trauma — including violence against Black communities, protests against that violence, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities — have changed the lives of youth in 2020 and 2021. The result has been increased anxiety, depression, and stress for youth. The American Rescue Plan made dedicated funds available for schools to address the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students. School-Based Strategies for Addressing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Youth in the Wake of COVID-19 outlines strategies for schools to consider as communities transition back to full-time, in-person instruction:

  • Balance academic learning opportunities with social, emotional, and behavioral support. Overemphasizing loss of learning and the need to “catch up” could increase stress and anxiety.
  • Consider schoolwide mental health screenings to understand students’ needs and determine who needs crisis intervention support, such as students who have lost someone to COVID-19, those experiencing food and financial insecurity, or those with a history of trauma and chronic stress.
  • Focus on rebuilding relationships with peers and teachers. School connectedness can help students feel safe and supported. Open houses, peer networks, and creating time and space for students to rebuild lost relationships and social opportunity can provide support.
  • Promote and build resilience. Providing opportunities for efficacy and self-control, developing a sense of belonging, and encouraging a sense of cultural and historical roots can build resilience and help students adapt to adversity and stress.
  • Incorporate social and emotional learning into curricula by building classrooms that focus on social and emotional skill building, implementing culturally responsive policies, supporting staff well-being, and building mental health literacy for school staff.
  • Establish school-based health centers or community partnerships with health and mental health providers, which can remove students’ barriers to accessing mental health care. Recharge rooms, peer networks, and library collections can help students manage their stress and anxiety.
  • Promote parental engagement through welcoming school environments and resources that inform families about mental health and well-being.

The rapid expert consultation also says that supporting staff by providing professional learning opportunities about mental, emotional, and behavioral health — as well as supporting the mental health needs of educators and staff — can help improve youth mental health.

Undertaken by the Societal Experts Action NetworkSchool-Based Strategies for Addressing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Youth in the Wake of COVID-19 was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and conducted in collaboration with the Forum for Children’s Well-Being.

The National Academies are a private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.


Megan Lowry, Media Officer
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu