Public Policy and Arts Administration (PPAA) Column: Feb/Mar 2022

NAEA News Feb/Mar 2022

The columns for this issue of NAEA News were written prior to the 2022 National Convention. As such, you may find information about Convention sessions and references to past occurrences in the future tense.

Public Policy and Arts Administration: Mental Health as a School Focus

On December 7, 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy publicly noted the urgency of addressing the American youth mental health crisis due to the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021). As noted by the surgeon general, educators across the United States have also seen a rise in student anxiety and mental health issues during the pandemic. Many school administrators noted seeing a rise in anxiety prior to the pandemic—with prepandemic data revealing that 1 in 3 high school students had experienced persistent feelings of hopelessness and sadness (Blad, 2019; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020), yet the pandemic forces the topic of mental health to the forefront.

Though preservice teachers typically do not receive formal education on understanding anxiety and depression in school students, and though art teachers typically do not receive formal education on art therapy, most teachers are fully aware of the varied manifestations of anxiety, hopelessness, and depression among their students. In these times, as the global population learns to either live simultaneously with COVID-19 or as we hopefully wind down from it, pandemic analysis has turned toward the discussion of mental health and anxiety. With 1 in 6 school-aged students currently affected by mental health issues and mental illness (Texas Education Agency, 2021), and with 4.5 million children in the United States having been diagnosed and living with anxiety (Covington, 2021), educational policy needs a focused plan to address the mental health of students during the school day and beyond. Evidence-based studies prove that the effects of mental illness can be mitigated or even prevented by early intervention. While many factors affect mental health, including genetics, prenatal health, critical points in brain development, and life experiences, when schools and parents work to address early mental health signs and symptoms, there can be greater success in affecting a child’s long-term development.

On October 19, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education released a new resource to provide information and resources to help promote social–emotional well-being and mental health among children and school students. The document, titled Supporting Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs, explains challenges and provides recommendations regarding topics such as prioritizing wellness, reducing stigma and other barriers to accessing mental health support, focus on evidence-based practice, establishing usable and implementable frameworks, leveraging policy and funding, using data for decision making, and how to enhance the workforce capacity in our schools regarding mental health (U.S. Department of Education, 2021). Most (if not all) state departments of education provide web pages of mental health resources. While a resource web page is a start, policy needs to be visibly implemented and available at the local school district level.

In a recent informal poll of art teachers in the Online Art Teachers (K–12) social media group, art teachers were asked whether local mental health initiatives were happening in their school districts for either students or teachers. Answers to the question varied, but nearly all were reflective of schools giving simple perks to assist with teachers’ and students’ mental states. However, professional development for educators was not reported—some teachers mentioned that their districts were “talking about it.” Professional development resources exist. The pandemic exacerbates our need to provide teacher training for social and emotional well-being and mental health education. For the art teacher, it points toward a need for better training in mental health concepts from a cognitive viewpoint within the context of the school art classroom.


Blad, E. (2019, March 14). Schools grapple with student depression as data show problem worsening. EducationWeek.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Youth risk behavior survey: Data summary and trends report 2009-2019.

Covington, T. (2021, September 22). 2021 mental health statistics. The Zebra.

Texas Education Agency. (2021, June 18). Mental health and behavioral health.

U.S. Department of Education. (2021, October 19). Supporting child and student social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, December 7). U.S. Surgeon General issues advisory on youth mental health crisis further exposed by COVID-19 pandemic [Press release].

Column by: Trina Harlow, PPAA President, NAEA Higher Education Division Director-Elect, Assistant Professor of Art Education, University of Central Arkansas,

Trina Harlow, PPAA President
Tenure-Track Assistant Professor of Art Education, University of Central Arkansas. Email:

Beth Dobberstein, PPAA President-Elect
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Email:

Erin Price, PPAA Past President
University of Missouri. Email:

Sarah Cress-Ackermann, PPAA Communications Liaison
Ball State University, Indiana. Email:

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