School Safety and Student Mental Health

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) believes that children must be safe and healthy in order to optimally learn as students. A safe school is free of violence and threats of violence, bullying and harassment, and the sale and use of illicit substances. In addition, a safe school is prepared to respond to emergencies. The AAFP supports efforts to increase school safety including improving school climate and connectedness as well as student mental health. A multi-tiered system of supports enables a systematic approach in a student-centered manner. This system should utilize multi-disciplinary teams for preventive strategies, early identification and evidence-based intervention, and providing or coordinating the provision of intensive supports. A safe learning environment, social emotional learning, and being trauma informed are core preventive strategies that promote self-regulation, empathy, self-esteem, and caring relationships, particularly for students who have had adverse childhood experiences.

Mental health supports should be available for students who need them. Untreated mental health conditions are associated with poor academic performance, misconduct, school drop-out, unemployment, involvement with the juvenile justice system, and violence. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among this age group, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the period 2009-2016 the suicide rate increased 33%.

The AAFP supports the CDC’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model and believes that schools should be part of the medical neighborhood. Family Physicians are encouraged to advocate for and collaborate with schools on improving school safety and increasing mental health supports for students.

(Sept 2019 BOD)