83% of NWLA high school students face mental health challenges at school, survey finds

Study’s authors present findings to Bossier, Caddo superintendents and plan to address their school boards

83% of NWLA high school students face mental health challenges at school, survey shows

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — In Northwest Louisiana, 83% of high school students encounter challenges including stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and thoughts of self-harm, a survey shows.

The study conducted by the NWLA Teen Advisory Committee also found that while counselors are provided for students in all public high schools, less than 10% of high school students talk to counselors about these issues.

“There’s a gap in resources when it comes to students facing challenges and where the students are going when they face these challenges," committee member Robert Lawrence said. “A trusting relationship must exist for students to be willing to engage with school counselors.”

The survey was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic.

“This pandemic, this quarantine has really revealed vast structural flaws we have in society right now," Lawrence said.

“But things we are recommending are simple solutions to fix problems when it comes to mental health.”

The committee, which is comprised of several high school students through Step Forward, surveyed just more than 5,000 high school students in Northwest Louisiana.

Members of the panel presented their findings Monday to the Bossier and Caddo school districts’ superintendents and plan to address the districts’ school boards.

The study found that 3,688 students responded “yes” or “maybe” when asked: “Have you experienced challenges that have negatively impacted your physical or emotional well-being?”

And when asked where they face these challenges, 83% said at school, 68% said at home and 18% said online.

While less than 10% of high school students surveyed said they would confide in a high school counselor, 78% said they would talk to their peers about the challenges they face, which was 25% more than the next selected category. The committee found that high school students also chose to talk to their parents as opposed to high school counselors.

And of the high school students who were surveyed, the study shows 48% consider themselves engaged or very engaged when it comes to sports teams, religious groups or other clubs and organizations.

The student-led committee that conducted the study also came up with some recommendations to be applied to local high schools, affecting teachers and administrators as well as mental health services.

3 recommendations for teachers and administrators

  1. “The current method of teacher and administrator training on mental health challenges should be expanded to include actionable response strategies. Rather than a lecture-style session with the faculty, schools should adopt active learning approaches. Through simulation-style exercises, faculty should develop and utilize a written faculty action guide for responding to students with mental health challenges.”
  2. “Faculty should receive training in how to foster open dialogue, cultivate safe spaces and advise students through one-on-one discussions addressing challenges ranging from loneliness, anxiety, body issues to thoughts regarding self-harm. This would allow students who naturally confide in teachers to receive proper guidance.”
  3. “Health class teachers, specifically, should expand instruction of mental health information to include stress-relief efforts within the classroom. For example, implement journaling, stress balls, physical exercise and awareness activities. Given that health classes are required for all high school students, this represents an existing opportunity for students to receive necessary guidance and coping strategies.”

4 recommendations regarding mental health services in schools

  1. “Each school should differentiate the procedures for students to contact counselors with academic needs and for students to contact counselors with emotional needs Distinguishing these procedures will allow designated times for students to meet with counselors and will foster a welcoming environment. This will reduce the perception that counselors are solely working for the academic needs of students and will increase the number of students confiding in counselors.”
  2. “Schools should provide a virtual form to schedule appointment times with counselors to quicken the response time and to provide anonymity within the student body when seeking help.”
  3. “Weekly, counselors should be required to visit within the student body outside of office visitations (i.e., lunch or morning periods). A trusting relationship must exist before students are willing to seek support and engage fully with their school counselors. Schools should work to establish a system in which the same counselor follows the student from ninth to 12th grade. This would allow for guidance that better addresses the students’ specific needs, building from trust gained throughout the entirety of high school.”
  4. “Each school should develop prevention strategies executed on school campuses that promote mental wellness. These efforts include stress-relief informational efforts, awareness efforts and moments in the school day designated for moments of meditative silence or breathing.”

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