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Mental Health

School Mental Health Worker Shortage is Harming Students

— October 2, 2023

School are trying to come up with creative ways to manage crises.

There have been numerous events including shootings, the pandemic, racial unrest, and parent protests that have all caused many students to feel unstable in recent years. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2021 that one in three girls had seriously contemplated suicide, and suicide rates in young men continue to increase. With the ongoing healthcare worker shortage, here is a serious mental health crisis looming over school systems across the United States, and there are not enough mental health workers to meet the needs of the nation’s school children.

According to The Washington Post, the National Association of School Psychologists advocates for one school counselor for every 250 students, and one school psychologist for every 500 students. However, the reality is far from these lofty goals. The national average is one school counselor for every 408 students and one school psychologist for every 1,127 students. In some schools, there are no mental health professionals at all.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that not only is there a shortage of mental health professionals in schools, but across the board. Nearly half of Americans live in an area that is considered a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). In terms of supply and demand, there is a growing demand for mental health professionals and a significant worker shortage, in general.

School Mental Health Worker Shortage is Harming Students
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Schools must address this crisis now. With an insufficient number of school counselors and psychologists, one of the ways to address the issue is task shifting. Task shifting allows other members of the school’s staff to devote time to counseling students. This is particularly common with teachers and principals.

The advantage is that it addresses the problem right now without hiring additional staff or waiting for more people to be trained for the job. This gives students an immediate resource in real-time.

Some experts see this as a dangerous solution because the staff members counseling the children may only have a bachelor’s degree and may have no background in counseling at all. Most counselors and school psychologists are clinicians with advanced degrees. The lack of expertise is a major concern.

From a fiscal standpoint, schools may decide that it is cheaper to use their members of staff for counseling. This could become a burden to teachers and principals and may undermine the necessity of degreed professionals for mental health in a school setting.

Some schools are outsourcing to meet their student’s mental health needs. For example, many districts have found that hiring an outside psychologist or counselor to come in for a day or two each week helps to provide their students with a very needed resource.

Additionally, there are schools now using telehealth to fill the void left by the mental health worker shortage. However, some may find this controversial and not approve of such a hands-off technology-driven approach to mental health care.

In order to provide mental health services to their students, schools will have to employ traditional methods such as in-house counselors and psychologists as well as branch out into new methods like task shifting and outsourcing.


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Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs)

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