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New Guidance: Youth Mental Health in the Wake of COVID-19

July 15, 2021

The Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN), an activity of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), produced a rapid expert consultation of school-based strategies for addressing youth mental health and well-being in the wake of COVID-19. With support and sponsorship by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, SEAN linked researchers in the behavioral, economic, and social sciences with decision makers to respond to COVID-19-related policy questions.

The unprecedented disruption in the lives of youth, aged 10-18, related to COVID-19, as well as heightened racial trauma, begs urgent expert consultation. These recent upheavals have led to increased mental health concerns in youth. SEAN and sponsoring organizations seek to address these negative impacts by ensuring that young individuals have the support and resources necessary to meet their mental, behavioral, and emotional needs. The rapid expert consultation aims to inform education leaders, school districts, state and local decision makers, parents, teachers, and youth of school-based strategies to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts.

To better understand the experiences of adolescents, SEAN, in collaboration with the Forum for Children’s Well-Being of NASEM, held a public workshop for youth to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the pandemic. The workshop was conducted with the goal of incorporating the perspectives and voices of youth into subsequent policy responses. Young individuals defined a need for regular conversations about mental health, breaks and grace periods for students in times of disruption, and the permittance of self-expression in virtual environments.

Following the public workshop, SEAN and sponsoring organizations developed a list of strategies to be implemented in schools. Building on insights from the behavioral and social sciences, the rapid expert consultation suggests providing school-wide screenings of mental health, establishing school-based health centers and community partnerships with healthcare providers, incorporating social and emotional learning into core curriculums, and promoting parental engagement, amongst other recommendations. The rapid expert consultation also produced strategies to support educators and staff, including professional learning opportunities related to mental health and additional resources to meet evolving needs.

The event concluded with a statement of gratitude about the current federal COVID-19 recovery funding and a suggestion to prioritize long-term funding for everchanging psychosocial and mental health needs. FABBS commends SEAN and the sponsoring organizations for the informative consultation, and important role incorporating research to best meet the mental, behavioral, and emotional needs of American youth.

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