6 Steps for Improving K-12 Student Mental Health

by | May 12, 2023 | Gary's Blog

Addressing the Mental Health Crisis

Universal mental health screenings are critical and must start at a young age.


A student mental health services provider shares leading practices for preventative programming as public health experts call for universal mental health screenings in schools.

As you know, my goal for this blog is to be a free resource to everyone tasked with keeping others safe. When I don’t have firsthand knowledge on a topic, I look to the network of experts I know and trust.  This important blog post first appeared as an article on Campus Safety Magazine.  Because addressing the mental health of students is an integral layer of school safety, I requested to have this article live as a permanent blog post for Safeguard Risk Solutions clients.  I extend my gratitude to the original author of this blog, Campus Safety Senior Editor Amy Rock, for sharing her work on my blog.

A recent study found nearly 60% of college students received mental health care during their K-12 years.  However, another recent study found more than 50% of K-12 schools aren’t fully equipped to assist with the mental health-related needs of their students, making it likely many of those college students may not have gotten the support they truly needed to effectively manage their mental health struggles into adulthood.

To address the growing youth mental health crisis, public health experts agree universal mental health screenings are critical and must start at a young age. According to a poll commissioned by Effective School Solutions, a provider of school-based mental health services for K-12 school districts, only 40% of administrators say their school has adopted broad-based mental health screening initiatives.


ESS, which provides clinical programs, professional learning, and consulting services to help districts introduce mental health best practices, believes districts and policymakers need national systems and guidelines for preventative services. To create an impetus for change, ESS recently released a six-point leading practices guide for districts, states, and federal policymakers to reinvent mental health in schools over the next five years. Each step has recommendations for both districts and state/federal groups.

Below is an overview of the ESS guide. The full guide with more details and recommendations can be read here.


1. Develop and implement better systems and guidelines for early identification of students with mental health challenges.

    • District recommendations: Incorporate regular mental health screenings of all students throughout the school year.
    • State and federal recommendations: Issue guidelines and best practices for districts to conduct universal mental health screenings with a focus on parental awareness and consent, required systems to follow up, and data and privacy considerations.


2. Promote and incentivize consistent adherence to a best practice Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) model 

    • District recommendations: Conduct needs assessment of current MTSS for mental health policies and practices.
    • State and federal recommendations: Create clear and standardized definitions of best practices for each tier of the MTSS framework as they pertain to mental health.


3. Create and implement guidelines, systems, and processes for data collection and progress monitoring of school-based mental health initiatives

    • District recommendations: Create progress monitoring guidelines and data collection frameworks aligned to key mental health outcomes.
    • State and federal recommendations: Publish guidance for local education agencies (LEAs) on progress monitoring and data collection framework aligned to key mental health outcomes.


4. Build mental health awareness capacity among adults in school communities

    • District recommendations: Create annual professional and parent learning plans, including defined learning objectives and a calendar of events.
    • State and federal recommendations: Publish and distribute guidelines and learning objectives for building mental health awareness with educators and parents.


5. Create sustainable funding pathways for school-based mental health initiatives

    • District recommendations: Ensure senior district administration and finance staff are educated on the full range of options to sustainably fund mental health services.
    • State and federal recommendations: Create mental health sustainability funds to ensure a successful transition away from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER)-based funding.


6. Ensure all students in need have access to top-tier mental health clinicians

    • District recommendations: Partner with an agency with deep domain knowledge in hiring high-quality mental health professionals to identify, recruit, and train mental health staff members.
    • State and federal recommendations: Offer incentives (i.e. tuition reimbursement) to increase the number of entrants into mental health-related fields.

To help district leaders secure the resources to pay for the recommendations outlined in the guide, ESS also created a seven-part framework to help districts as they search for long-term funding for mental health services. The guide can be found here.

2023 Campus Safety Conferences to Cover Mental Health, Funding

The topics covered in ESS’ guides, plus many others, will be discussed at this summer’s Campus Safety Conferences, happening July 10-12 in Henderson, Nevada, and July 31 – August 2 in Dallas, Texas. CSC’s mission is to create a community for all stakeholders to receive time-critical education and training while building peer-to-peer relationships that facilitate year-round engagement, validation and problem solving to constantly improve safety and security.

At both conferences, Don Hough, deputy associate director for school safety for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s School Safety Task Force, will discuss how to use funding (along with personnel, training, and various tools) to prevent school violence — much of which can be mitigated through focusing on mental health initiatives.

Also at CSC Texas, Troy Siewert, founder of Insightful Crisis Response, Inc., will present a breakout session on how to effectively respond to mental health crisis calls.

The CSCs are geared towards those involved in protecting our nation’s schools and institutions of higher education. Each conference features critical safety and security sessions for K-12 and college campuses, full-day, hands-on-learning workshops, 50+ product and solution providers, and extensive opportunities to network with campus peers from across the country.

We are also excited to announce, in addition to our K-12 and higher education focused tracks, we will be adding a new “mini-track” to both conferences. These three sessions and one workshop will focus on the role of school governance in campus safety & security.

To stay up to date on all things Campus Safety, sign up here to receive our free newsletters and industry updates.

Get In Touch

How is your District addressing the mental health crisis in K-12 students?

You Might Also Like

Real-Life: Unified Command

  You don’t have to get hit by a car or have something bad happen at your School to learn the lessons of Unified Command. You are the Incident Commander until Unified Command. No, this is not me... Not counting car crashes, I’ve been struck by a vehicle three...

read more