Who prioritizes funding for mental health education in schools?

Tufts Public Opinion Lab
7 min readMay 1, 2023

by Sarah Tata (class of 2023)

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for mental health support amongst adolescents is at an all-time high. A study conducted by the SAGE Open Medicine journal concluded that when aggregating data from several studies with 65,508 participants (ranging from 4 to 19 years of age) that researched the effects of the pandemic on mental health, it was found that children and adolescents have faced an increase in mental health-related issues since the COVID-19 pandemic. In data collected from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it was found that, “From March 2020 to October 2020, mental health–related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17 compared with 2019 emergency department visits.” These data clearly demonstrate the extreme effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the mental health of adolescents, and as a result, it shows the need for greater intervention.

I am currently in the process of completing a thesis through the Tufts University’s Department of Education where I examine qualitative research I conducted through interviews with school administrators in the district. In these conversations, the topic of mental health, and the current lack of adequate resources in schools, was a topic that was brought up constantly. A majority of my interviewees had discussed the change they had seen amongst students in terms of mental health since the pandemic, and they went on to advocate for the need to have much greater support services available.

Through both the study conducted and the data obtained by the SAGE Open Medicine journal as well as my own personal conversations with administrators directly witnessing this topic first hand in their school district, it is clear to me that greater mental health support in schools is a crucial need. I wanted to look deeper into public opinion regarding mental health education in schools.

Data

In order to do this, I used data from a national survey published on Roper iPoll that was conducted in September 2022. The survey was fielded by IPSOS (sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and contains responses from 3,071 adult participants. The 50-question survey contained a multitude of questions in regards to the participants’ own history and knowledge of mental health as well as their opinions on mental health education by evaluating their answers to the question: “(Regardless of whether or not you plan to vote in the upcoming midterm elections this November (2022), if you were to vote, would you be more or less likely to support a candidate who does the following, or would it make no difference?…Much more likely, somewhat more likely, makes no difference, somewhat less likely, much less likely)…Supports funding for mental health education in K-12 schools,”

Effect of Receiving Mental Health Treatment on Opinion Regarding Mental Health Education

The first graph shows that those who have received mental health treatment are more likely to support a candidate that advocates for mental health education funding in schools than those who have not received mental health treatment. For example, almost 50% of respondents who have recieved mental health treatment answered that they are “much more likely” to support a political candidate who advocates for mental health education in K-12 schools.

Effect of Party Affiliation on Opinion Regarding Mental Health Education

The second graph shows that those who identify as a Democrat are much more likely to support a candidate that advocates for mental health education in schools compared to people who identify as a Republican. These results also show that those who identify as a Democrat find a candidate’s stance on mental health education in schools playing more of an important influence in whether they support the candidate compared to Republicans.

Does Saying “Yes” to Receiving Mental Health Treatment Affect the Findings of Party Affiliation on Opinion Regarding Mental Health Education?

I wanted to combine the findings of the previous analyses to determine if there was a relationship between the two. In order to do so, I ran the same data from the second graph, but I only included respondents who answered “yes” to the question of whether or not they have received mental health treatment.

The results did not differ significantly from the results found in graph 2, and therefore, receiving mental health treatment did not have a strong effect on the relationship between party affiliation and the amount of support for a candidate that advocates for mental health education in schools.These results indicate there is a stronger relationship between supporting a candidate who advocates for mental health education in schools and party affiliation rather than whether or not a person received mental health treatment.

Effect of Socioeconomic Status on Receiving Mental Health Treatment

Many studies have concluded that being low-income leads to more mental-healh related issues. Therefore, I wanted to examine this relationship further by looking into the effect of income on opinion regarding mental health education. I first computed a chi-squared test if there is a statistically significant relationship between socioeconomic status and receiving mental health treatment, and I discovered the relationship was statistically significant. From there, I decided to graph the relationship between socioeconomic status and receiving mental health treatment. Here we can see that those of the bottom two income brackets were more likely to have received mental health treatment/support.

Effect of Socioeconomic Status on Opinion Regarding Mental Health Education

The next graph shows that the lowest three income brackets are more likely to answer the question with “much more likely” compared to the higher three income brackets. Furthermore, the higher income brackets are more likely to answer the question with “makes no difference” compared to the lower income brackets.

The Effect of Education Level on Receiving Mental Health Treatment

The last demographic I wanted to explore was education level. The first step I conducted was completing a chi-squared analysis to determine if education level and receiving mental health treatment had a statistically significant relationship. From the results, I failed to reject the null hypothesis, and therefore cannot conclude that there is a statistically significant relationship between education level and receiving mental health treatment.

This finding was interesting as due to the income results, I expected the education level results to be significant. Income and education level tend to correlate with eachother since individuals who recieved a higher education typically have a higher income than those who did not receive higher education. Therefore, it is surprising that the results for education level were different than the results for income level.

Discussion of Results

From my analyses examining different variables and their effect on the answers given to the question, “(Regardless of whether or not you plan to vote in the upcoming midterm elections this November (2022), if you were to vote, would you be more or less likely to support a candidate who does the following, or would it make no difference?…Much more likely, somewhat more likely, makes no difference, somewhat less likely, much less likely)…Supports funding for mental health education in K-12 schools,” it is clear there are contributors that significantly affect opinion on mental health education funding in schools.

First, while both having received mental health treatment and being a Democrat correlate with being more supportive of mental health education funding, when examining party affiliation of only respondents who answered “yes” to receiving mental health treatment, there is not a significant difference between those results and the results of examining the effect of party affiliation with all respondents (i.e not taking into account if they received mental health treatment.) Therefore, this lack of difference in results suggest party affiliation plays a very influential role in a person’s opinion on mental health education. Second, while both socioeconomic status and education level were analyzed, only socioeconomic status was found to have a statistically significant effect on opinion regarding mental health education funding. Furthermore, those who are of a lower economic bracket also were more likely to have received mental health treatment themselves.

These results bring insight into what factors play a role in an individual’s opinion on mental health education in schools. Opposing political parties have different platforms regarding education, funding, and mental health, these three attitudes may be interacting together, resulting in an effect on support for mental health education funding in schools. In addition, those who are of a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to face mental health challenges, and therefore, they are more understanding of the need for mental health education. Furthermore, those who are of a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have insurance that does not cover mental health services, and therefore, this factor too may play a role in their support for mental health education available in schools.

This data provides a foundational insight between the relationship between party and socioeconomic status and opinions regarding mental health education funding; however, further research needs to be done in terms of examining why these factors specifically, and not others, have a significant effect.

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Tufts Public Opinion Lab

The Tufts Public Opinion Lab (TPOL) is dedicated to studying contemporary controversies in American public opinion using quantitative data analysis.