Teachers Call for Extra Support & Resources to Manage the Rising Cases of Depression & Anxiety in Children

Photo by Kenny Eliason via Unsplash

By Pamela Acosta

Teachers and students across the state need additional support and resources to properly manage the rising percentage of kids with anxiety and depression in the state, according to a new survey.  

“The only way we can truly provide an equitable educational experience to our students is to understand the whole child and provide resources to take care of their social, emotional, and mental health needs,” said Christhian Saavedra, Student Success Coach in Rogers and one of the authors of the brief.

The Teach Plus Arkansas Policy Fellows surveyed 247 teachers to learn more about how their schools support students’ social and emotional needs.

The survey found that although educators are committed to their students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) and try their best to embed SEL strategies into the academic day, they lack the support or professional training needed for adequate mental health response, trauma-informed instruction, and SEL for students from diverse backgrounds. Teachers also need more time to implement a proper focus on mental health. 

The brief’s authors said additional investments in educators and schools to support this work are critical to creating a viable learning environment and meeting the needs of students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Arkansas has consistently ranked as one of the top three states in the nation for having one of the highest percentages of children and youth with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). 

According to data released as part of the 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, between 2016 and 2020, Arkansas had the third-highest increase in childhood depression and anxiety, behind California and South Dakota.

These rates are even higher among children of color. Black children in Arkansas between the ages of 3 and 17 had the highest rate of anxiety or depression (17%). By comparison, 14.8 of Arkansas’s White children had anxiety or depression.

“We believe all students should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential,” said Teach Plus Arkansas Executive Director Stacey McAdoo.

“If children of color are experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety, it is our duty to take action to improve laws, policies, and practices that will make their lives better. The teacher leaders who authored this brief are life-long learners dedicated to improving our education system and will continuously seek out additional resources and solutions to improve the outcomes for our students.”

The Arkansas Department of Health stated that children “who experience adversity in the first years of life are more at risk for negative social, emotional, educational, behavioral, cognitive, and health outcomes throughout their lives.” 

When students who have lived through traumatic experiences don’t get the mental health support they need, coupled with interruptions to learning and a lack of support and access to resources, students are left unprepared for school and life in general, according to the brief.  

“Our students cannot learn if they are in fight or flight mode. If we expect teachers to help students learn, we must give educators the tools to help students be in the right mindset in the first place,” said Perla Andrade, a teacher in Little Rock and one of the authors of the brief.

Teachers hope that Arkansas schools and districts do more to address the social-emotional well-being of students and educators. 

In the brief, Strategically Addressing Student Mental Health in Our Schools: Recommendations from Teach Plus Arkansas Policy Fellows, Teach Plus teacher leaders set forth a series of recommendations for state leaders on closing the gaps of social, emotional, and mental health education and support in the state.

Teach Plus teacher leaders’ recommendations include:

  1. Create school-specific mental health services, such as a coordinator/student success coach, to provide in-school support for students and professional development for teachers.
  2. Engage teachers in relevant training, such as Mental Health First Aid training, on how to authentically serve the SEL needs of students.
  3. Protect teacher time for SEL lessons and conversations with students and participate in relevant training.

 According to the report, investing in mental health services for students and ensuring that teachers have the training and time to implement SEL will directly impact the well-being of students and teachers. It will also alleviate Arkansas’s critical teacher shortage.

“With these solutions from Teach Plus teacher leaders, we can improve conditions in our public schools to ensure that we are educating the whole child and alleviating barriers so that more teachers want and can remain in our classrooms,” said McAdoo.