Student mental health – and the possible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has had on it – will be a focus for the district in the 2021-22 school year.

Director of student services Keli Melcher, who gave a presentation to board members on the results of the 2021 Dane County Youth Assessment at the Monday, Aug. 16, meeting, said the percentage of students who experienced mental health issues was up from three years ago.

Melcher said the survey, which is updated by the Dane County Youth Commission, showed high school students reporting depression increased about 5% for 2021, while reports of anxiety increased about 14%, compared to the 2018 survey.

“You can see some of the impacts of COVID-19 on our students,” she said.

Students in grades 7-8 reporting mental health services outside school increased from 6.8% to 10%, with about a 5% increase in students reporting they “always or often felt nervous, anxious or on edge.”

To help students dealing with anxiety, depression or any mental health issue, Melcher said the district has done a lot of professional development over the last three years on students’ mental health. She said more staff are now trained in a variety of intervention programs to help students in need get assistance as soon as possible.

“Parents can refer, teachers can refer (students); kids who might have anxiety but are afraid to say something, or if one of the trained staff is working with a student they think it would be a good resource for,” she said. “(It’s) when is it necessary to intervene, and what kind of intervention would work best?”

Melcher said the district has several goals for the near future, including developing a more formal path for referrals, continuing to implement interventions when needed, and coordinating teams to “develop, implement, and collaborate for mental health supports and interventions especially following the pandemic.” She said the district now has more levels of intervention to use, depending on the student’s situation, which is helpful for everyone.

“That’s more tools in the toolbox for our counselors, our psychologists, social workers and learning staff, so now it’s the ‘when,’” she said. “And it’s also more support for teachers to be able to recognize signs of anxiety.

“When we are looking at those numbers, we all know even more kids are probably dealing with that now, especially as they come back and everything is so crazy with the world.”

Email Wisconsin Media Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at

2018 Dane County Youth Assessment — High school students

24.8% reported Depression
28.8% reported Anxiety
14.7% are receiving Mental Health Services
4.2% Receiving Services at school and outside of school
9.3% reported some or almost all of the time they thought seriously about killing themselves

2021 Dane County Youth Assessment — High school students

30% reported Depression
2% reported Anxiety
16% receiving mental health services outside of school
2% receiving services at school and outside of school
10% reported some or almost all of the time they thought seriously about killing themselves

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