A national emergency in youth mental health was declared at the end of last year by the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association.

But the increased demand for mental health services combined with a lack of qualified mental health professionals, the cost of care, and the time it takes to find a clinician make accessing care a challenge for most American families.

A recent research study, “The State of Youth Mental Health & Our Schools,” commissioned by Daybreak Health, surveyed educators and parents in several dimensions related to the youth mental health crisis and schools. Among other things, it found that the majority of parents (84%) and educators (78%) believe that schools need to play a bigger role in providing youth mental health support—even more than families, clergy, coaches, or pediatricians — to help solve this crisis.

“As students return to school, the majority of parents are looking to schools to help provide mental health support to their children—because they can’t access it or afford it on their own,” said Alex Alvarado, CEO, of Daybreak Health in a news release. “Our schools are essential—and are rising to the challenge—in helping to solve the most defining problem of an entire generation.”


Both parents and educators are equally concerned about the state of youth mental health. 91% of parents are worried about their kids’ mental health. And both parents and educators ranked “Mental and Emotional Health” as the biggest challenge facing middle and high school-aged students today. The majority of educators ranked it No. 1 — higher than school safety, cyber-bullying, physical health and wellbeing, and social media addiction — and the majority of parents ranked it No. 2, close behind school safety, according to the news release.

Big Barriers 

There’s a shortage of qualified mental health professionals despite the scope and severity of the crisis. 42% of parents and 53% of educators think that children’s access to mental health services is inadequate. This perceived inadequacy is comparable across all types of districts (urban, suburban, and rural) and states, the news release added.

The cost of care is unaffordable: Only 34% of parents in the study said they can afford mental health services for their children. Students can’t relate to their therapists, creating weak therapeutic alliances. While most educators want to match students to therapists based on race, ethnicity, and other relevant factors, 61% say it’s difficult to do so due to clinician availability.

And 46% of parents in the study cite: “Difficulty finding a therapist my child could relate to in terms of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, personality” as a challenge. It takes too long to get care — and to get to care. 98% of educators reported a waitlist, with 69% reporting an average wait time of at least 3 weeks to get a student into counseling when services are provided either by the school or out-of-school services. 82% of parents spend at least 1-2 hours transporting their children to therapy, creating challenges with time away from work.

Schools are at the Frontlines
Seeing students who are struggling with mental health walking into schools every day, educators are at the front of the youth mental health crisis and 99% of them think that their district should be doing more to provide additional mental health services.
Educators and parents agree that mental health services will promote student and staff safety (63%), increase teacher satisfaction and retention (51%), and improve school attendance (50%). But, schools are also struggling to hire qualified mental health professionals (85%) and hiring and training staff is also undeniably difficult and slow with 70% of educators saying it takes an average of 3-12 months to hire a mental health professional.
Schools are Shifting Priorities

In response to the youth mental health crisis, many school systems have either already increased or will be increasing their spending on mental health services. While two-thirds of educators said that their districts considered or did increase spending on mental health services in the past two years, many are still in the process of figuring out how to do so. Which is why a whopping 98% report that they plan to increase mental health spending in the upcoming academic year. The top three services districts plan to invest most heavily include virtual mental health services, mental health screening, and mental health education.

Survey Methodology

The sample of 1,008 US adults are all parents of middle and high school students from across the country representing a range of communities, demographics, socioeconomic status, and gender. The sample of 250 US educators/school mental health providers all have job titles reflecting authority over mental health curriculum or budgeting, and/or roles in directly providing or administering school or district mental health services. They represent varying regions across the country, job titles, and gender. DKC Analytics conducted and analyzed this survey.

Source: Daybreak Health