How To Improve Mental Health In Schools

Stress management lesson plans can help support students who are stressed out!

The number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing. As our young people grapple with mental health issues, schools play a vital role in supporting student mental health with resources, services, and opportunities. We explore how to improve mental health in schools using a comprehensive school mental health system that supports all our young people with a complete toolkit of mental and physical well-being skills.

The Current State Of Mental Health In Schools

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health challenges among students are alarmingly prevalent. Data from recent years highlights the following:

  • Prevalence of Mental Disorders: Approximately 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year.

  • Depression and Anxiety: Around 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression, and 7.1% (about 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.

  • Suicidal Ideation: Among high school students, 18.8% reported seriously considering attempting suicide, and 8.9% attempted suicide.

  • Behavioral Problems: About 7.4% of children aged 3-17 years have a diagnosed behavior problem.

These statistics underscore the urgent need for effective mental health interventions in school settings.


Student sitting at lockers looking depressed and sad.
Student mental health issues are on the rise! How can we help?

Tiered Systems Of Support For Mental Health In Schools

A comprehensive school mental health system is designed to support all students and teachers with a coordinated, tiered approach. outlines the multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) as follows:

  • Tier 1: Focusing on promoting mental health and preventing occurrences of problems.

  • Tier 2: Focusing on preventing risk factors or early-onset problems from progressing.

  • Tier 3: Focusing on individual student interventions that address more serious concerns and prevent the worsening of symptoms that can impact daily life functioning.

All tiers are critical to supporting students’ mental health in schools. Following the Covid pandemic, there has been an increased push for more social workers, school counselors, and mental health professionals in schools. For example, Massachusetts recently made a significant investment in a program called bryt, aimed at creating more Tier 3 level services within school districts,

“As a pioneer developing the model for tier three mental health support in schools, bryt is standing in the gap for students experiencing mental health crisis by working with schools and faculty to implement specialized programs.”

But how can we further develop mental health in schools to create a preventative and proactive approach for all students? Let’s make the case for investing in physical education and health.

How To Improve Mental Health In Schools: Physical Education & Health


While improving mental health services within tier 3 is essential, adopting a holistic approach that integrates physical education and health classes as conduits for change can significantly enhance student mental health.


Consider physical education and health classes the direct line to any and all tier 1 mental health support systems. Yes, it can exist in school assemblies, advisory periods, and other areas, but physical education is a perfect solution for building a comprehensive school mental health system for every student.

  1. Physical Activity and Exercise – Physical activity has profound benefits on mental well-being, including reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving mood, and enhancing cognitive function.

  2. Social Emotional Learning – SEL is one of the 5 major standards of physical education and can be practiced and developed throughout a wide range of activities and units. Incorporating mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques within the PE curriculum can help students manage stress and develop better emotional regulation skills.

  3. Mental Health Education – Health is a required semester in many states, and the standards of health education curriculum have put a more significant focus on total physical, mental, and emotional health. Here, a comprehensive school mental health system can tap into different health education lesson plans that spend time on the role of nutrition, sleep, substance abuse, and more.

All of the different elements of tier 1 mental health support can be delivered and adapted for the physical education and health classroom.

A student looks at their laptop during a physical education class.
A student looks at their laptop during a physical education class.

Make Physical Education & Health Great

To make physical education and health classes a conduit for mental health in schools, there are clear calls to action that school districts must take.


  • Make Time For Physical Education – Physical education requirements in schools are declining to make room for other subjects and courses. But we must make daily physical education in schools the norm, not the anomaly. By doing so, students have a clear and consistent place to develop all the different elements of positive mental health.

  • Safe and Positive Atmosphere: The physical education environment should be safe and supportive, focusing on personal growth and enjoyment rather than solely on performance.

  • Encouragement and Positive Reinforcement: Teachers should emphasize effort, improvement, and teamwork, fostering a positive self-image and resilience among students.

  • Empower Physical Educators – Physical education and health teachers are on the front lines of how to improve mental health in schools. We need to support an often overlooked subject as one of the best places to address the mental health needs of our students. To do so, teachers should be supported by curriculum, technology, and professional development to enhance PE and health and create a proper mental health support system.

Key Takeaways On How To Improve Mental Health In Schools


Children’s mental health is getting more attention than ever! As more students face and manage mental health challenges, there is still a need for tier 2 and 3 systems that address significant mental health problems.


However, the best preventative measures we can take are to support students physically, mentally, and emotionally. A comprehensive physical education and health program can achieve all three. 


While we are quick to invest in cutting-edge programs centered around mental health education, we shouldn’t lose sight of the current opportunities that are already well-suited to supporting student mental health.


While physical education and health won’t be the one-stop-shop for all mental health problems, they can play a major role in mental health awareness through physical, mental, and emotional development.


How Many Schools Use PLT4M in PE and Health? 

Over 1,000 schools partner with PLT4M to support student physical, mental, and emotional health. 


How does PLT4M partner with physical education and health classes? 


PLT4M has a library of curriculum loaded into an easy to use technology. Combined, teachers and students can enhance the physical education and health experience. 


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