Dr. Amity Noltemeyer is a Professor of School Psychology and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Miami University. She serves as one of six-co leads on the Ohio School Wellness Initiative (OSWI). Dr. Noltemeyer also has previous experience as a department chair, President of the Ohio School Psychologists Association, Editor-in-Chief of School Psychology International journal, and a practicing school psychologist.
Student and Staff Wellness Needs in the Pandemic Context
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disruptive force in the lives of many people, and students and teachers in K-12 schools are no exception. As part of the Ohio School Wellness Initiative, our team sought to better understand how student and staff mental health and wellness needs had changed since the pandemic started. We surveyed staff in 116 Ohio schools in mid-2021, finding that 75% or more reported increases in students’ moderate to severe depression, anxiety, and social isolation since the pandemic started. More than half also reported increased concern for student grief and loss, trauma exposure, and suicidal ideation or attempts. In a separate survey of 915 school staff, we found that the mental health of school staff was also affected. More than half of staff reported increased concern for themselves because of emotional exhaustion and anxiety since the pandemic began, and over 75% reported these were currently concerns in their lives.
Although we also found that schools were attempting to implement supports to address these issues, this varied widely and not all who needed services had access. The surveys also revealed barriers to providing student and staff wellness support, including limited staffing, training, and time for planning and implementation.
Our project team used information from these surveys to inform our work with over 70 Ohio schools. These schools are beginning to implement Student Assistance Programs, a framework designed to prevent and address non-academic barriers to learning including mental health concerns and substance use. These schools are also planning and implementing staff wellness programming, with a holistic focus on 8 dimensions of wellness. Although there is no quick fix to address the needs revealed in our survey, implementing evidence-informed frameworks to support student and staff wellness is an important step in the right direction.