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Mental Health in Schools

Student mental health is an important and ongoing concern in elementary, middle, and high schools across the United States. Alongside the typical challenges of “growing up,” mental health issues in students have been shown to be a factor in bullying, violence, and school shootings.

Efforts to improve mental health awareness in schools are in place in many educational facilities, and most schools have anti-bullying and anti-violence programs. But despite the valiant efforts of faculty and staff, these programs often aren’t enough.



Youth mental health threats are illuminating a significant need for actionable solutions for students in a post-pandemic world. 

Read our State of Youth Mental Health Report

Make Mental Health a Priority

School violence, including bullying, is tied to student mental health—the mental health of both victims and perpetrators. Children who are bullied often experience anxiety, depression, fear, low self-esteem, or anger.

Instigators can be angry, frustrated, depressed, or even frightened, lashing out and resorting to violence as a release or a way to garner attention.

Studies have shown that those who witness bullying, known as bystanders, are also negatively affected by bullying.

For these reasons, it’s imperative that children’s mental health remains a priority in schools, throughout communities, and at home.

Make Mental Health a Priority
Student Mental Health Statistics

Student Mental Health Statistics

  • Almost 50% of students ages 9-12 say they have experienced bullying at school, and 20% say they have been bullied in the past year. Almost 14% of children ages 12-17 report that they have suffered from at least one major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year.
  • Shockingly, the number of students who experienced at least one episode of depression during 2021 increased by almost a quarter-million from the previous year
  • In addition, 2.3 million students struggle with severe major depression, which often co-occurs with other disorders like anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, substance use disorders, and others.
  • The number of students who experienced severe major depressive episodes in 2021 increased by 126,000 from 2020’s dataset. Only 27.3% of them received consistent treatment for MDE.

Children’s Mental Health

The term “emotional disturbance” (ED) is used to identify students who have a mental illness that affects their ability to succeed in school. Only 0.757% of students are identified as having an emotional disturbance.

However, the federal eligibility criteria used to identify these students so they can qualify for an individualized education program (IEP) have indicated extremely poor reliability.

This suggests that many more students than reported have mental health disorders that are not properly addressed in schools, by physicians, or at home. 

Early detection, intervention, treatment, and maintenance are critical for the benefit of the child—and for everyone around them.

It’s particularly important for elementary schools to help build a strong, safe, positive sense of mental health in young children. 

When children begin their school careers with a foundation based on self-worth, empathy for others, and kindness, they are much more likely to carry these traits with them throughout their lives.

Children’s Mental Health
Teen Mental Health

Teen Mental Health

Students in middle school and high school are more often involved in acts of violence than those in elementary school. 

They’re also much more likely than elementary students to suffer from a variety of mental health disorders.

Poor mental health in middle and high school students is a growing problem. According to the CDC, more than one in three high school students had persistent feelings of hopelessness and sadness in 2019. This is a startling increase of 40% since 2009.

In addition to that, approximately one in six teens reported making a suicide plan in the past year, which is a 44% increase since 2009.

These and other statistics paint a stark reality of the state of mental health in our teens, revealing the need for drastic improvements in mental health awareness in schools.

Mental Health and School Shootings

Studies show that most people with mental illnesses are not violent. However, a majority of school shooters reportedly have mental health problems like suicidal thoughts and major depression.

A study of 35 mass shooting cases from 1982 to 2019 revealed that 28 of the shooters had a mental illness diagnoses. Eighteen had schizophrenia, and ten had other diagnoses that included delusional disorder, personality disorders, substance use disorders, and bipolar disorder.

In this study, none of the shooters were receiving any type of treatment for their disorders prior to the shootings. 

The importance of early diagnosis and ongoing treatment for mental health in students is clear.

Mental Health and School Shootings

Sandy Hook Elementary School

On December 14, 2012, 20 young students and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The gunman had previously attended the school, and reportedly suffered from multiple mental health issues, including autism, social isolation, self-imposed isolation, and anorexia. He had not been on medication or received any other treatment.

Columbine High School

On April 20, 1999, 13 students and one teacher were shot and killed at Columbine High School in Colorado. The two shooters, students at the school, wounded 24 others as well.

Although neither gunman had a mental illness diagnosis, both had been involved with law enforcement multiple times and had discussed and made threats about the impending shooting.

One of the shooter’s mother is now a strong advocate for student mental health, and has discussed not knowing that her son was “depressed and suicidal.”


Rachel’s Challenge has helped me continue my chain reaction an entire decade later. Today, as I cultivate my “save the world gene” as a young professional, I am reminded of where it began. With kindness and compassion.”

Rachel’s Challenge Student


Rachel’s Challenge is the most powerful intervention I’ve seen in my 40 years of educational research.”

Dr. Robert Marzano
Educator, Researcher, Author


Rachel’s Challenge stimulates academic and social emotional-learning by focusing on the connection between students, faculties and staff.”

Curt Pacholke
Principal, Rice Lake High School

Mental Health Programs in Schools

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is one of the most powerful and effective educational practices that help students develop self-control, create positive relationships, deal with emotions in a healthy way, and develop empathy.

Rachel’s Challenge is a powerful program that teaches schools how to incorporate SEL into their overall school climate.
Rachel’s Challenge advocates for SEL at all grade levels. SEL has been shown to improve resilience in students, help them interact with others in positive ways, improve self-regulation, and contribute to positive decision-making skills.

This methodology can create, promote, and sustain healthy, safe, positive school environments that foster better awareness of mental health in schools, leading to more classrooms that are full of happier, safer kids.

For more information about Rachel’s Challenge and having an assembly in your school, or for additional solutions offered by Rachel’s Challenge.

Accept the challenge

Join the nearly 30,000,000 people around the world who have accepted Rachel’s Challenge to start a chain reaction of kindness.