New Research Reveals Importance of Connection for Teen Mental Health

New data from the CDC finds that high school students with close school relationships or virtual connections were less likely to report mental health concerns. This data further supports the need for training to help high school educators understand evidence-based communication strategies that help them connect to students and address emotional and behavioral concerns.

High School Mental Health: New Data Underscores the Importance of Connection

The newly-released CDC report is one of the largest sets of data about student experiences during the national mental health crisis. This data puts numbers to what educators and mental health professionals have already known: students need connection. The survey of over 7,000 students found that those who felt close to people at school had a significantly lower prevalence of poor mental health:

  • 28% of survey respondents who reported that they felt close to people at school reported poor mental health, compared to 45% who did not report such close relationships.
  • Students who reported feeling connected to others virtually were also less likely to report poor mental health—36% of respondents compared to 42% of their peers.

The report suggests that “comprehensive strategies that improve feelings of connectedness with others in the family, in the community, and at school might foster improved mental health among youths during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Why Teens Need Connection

Adolescents are growing into young adults. They’re finding their independence and individuality. They often detach from their parents and caregivers during this time frame, and deepen connections with peers and people outside their home.

“For teens in particular, they’re really in that phase of development where they’re trying to figure out who they are, what they want to be, what are their values, how do they differentiate themselves from their parents, maybe from their heritage or culture,” said Shashank V. Joshi, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Education at Stanford University.

Although teens are finding their independence and individuality, they still need support and connection. They just seek it out in people who are not their primary caregivers. This means that high school communities play an important role in fostering the connection that is such a powerful way to promote mental health and well-being.

“We know high school students and college students with close connections — whether they’re in-person or virtual — have that built-in feeling of support. Those who don’t have those connections, or who feel a thwarted sense of belongingness, don’t have that first level of connection,” Dr. Joshi said.

Are High School Educators Connecting?

When schools suddenly shifted to virtual learning at the onset of the pandemic, connection became more challenging. Districts saw attendance and participation drop, partly due to access issues. As schools shifted back to in-person classes, navigating the transition presented many challenges.

  • 2 in 3 teachers, principals, and district leaders say students are misbehaving more now than they did before the pandemic (source)
  • 44% of students said they had experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” within the past year (source)

Teachers want to support students, but many are unsure how to best help students they are concerned about.

  • 3 in 5 educators do not feel adequately prepared to use communication strategies to help students feel safe (source)
  • 3 in 5 educators do not feel adequately prepared to teach students activities to manage their stress and emotions (source)

Especially now as adolescent mental health concerns are mounting, there’s a need for educators to gain knowledge, skills, and confidence to support student mental health.

Study Measures Effective Training to Help Educators Connect with High School Students

A recent study published in the Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science found that our At-Risk simulation for high school educators effectively prepares teachers to identify students in psychological distress, engage them in effective conversations about their concerns, and refer them to support services if necessary.

Few studies have shown actual behavior change as a result of gatekeeper training programs. In this new study, an average of 42% of participants who completed the At-Risk interactive learning experience reported that they:

  • Recognized more students as in psychological distress
  • Increased the number of students they approached to talk to
  • Referred more students to mental health services
  • Had more conversations with other adults in the school community regarding students they were concerned about

High school students who are experiencing mental health challenges could greatly benefit from having educators who know when and how to intervene; who know how to approach meaningful conversations.

Experience a Role-Play Conversation with a Virtual Student 

At-Risk has been adopted by more than 10,000 schools and districts nationally. This evidence-based online solution quickly and cost-effectively drives sustainable changes in educator behavior that support student wellness, academic performance, attendance, and school safety. 

The data is telling, but seeing is believing. Request a demo today  to experience the power of simulation. 

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