Investing in schools to address the adverse mental health effects of COVID-19 on young people

Investing in schools to address the adverse mental health effects of COVID-19 on young people

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption in the daily lives of children and adolescents and has had a devastating effect on their mental health. More than one in three high school students in the United States reported experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic, and in October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national mental health emergency for children and adults. teenagers. California data also shows a disturbing increase in mental health incidents, particularly among teenage girls. Recent state investments to support schools’ efforts in early detection and intervention promise to play a vital role in addressing the youth mental health crisis.

About one-third of California teens ages 12 to 17 experienced severe psychological distress between 2019 and 2021, according to the California Health Interview Survey. Although the proportion of people reporting psychological distress remained stable during this period, there was a notable increase in the number of teenage suicides during the first year of the pandemic; suicides had already declined since 2016. Although the most recent California suicide data is from 2020, this trend may have continued in subsequent years. For example, a recent study from Illinois that included data through June 2021 found a sharp increase in children’s emergency room visits linked to suicidal thoughts since 2016, and anecdotal evidence from a large pediatric hospital in San Diego indicate that the number of behavioral health crises is much higher today than a few years ago.

Gender differences in behavioral health incidents during the pandemic have been striking. While the number of suicides is lower among girls than among boys, recent increases have been higher among girls. From 2019 to 2020, suicides increased by 39% among girls and 11% among boys. Additionally, teenage girls are much more likely than boys to visit the emergency room due to self-harm: in 2020, teenage girls made approximately 7,700 visits due to self-harm (an increase of 9 % compared to 2019), while boys made about 2,100 visits (a decrease of 8%) These results suggest that the pandemic has had a greater impact on the mental health of adolescent girls. National student surveys in the 2020-2021 school year also found that female students and those who do not identify as either male or female reported consistently higher rates of mental health issues.

Schools play an important role in assessing student mental health and providing behavioral health care. Before the pandemic, 58% of adolescents in the country who used mental health services received these services in an educational setting. Even when campuses were closed during the pandemic, schools remained a hub for a full continuum of behavioral health supports for students and their families. And to ease the transition to in-person learning, federal education grants have supported school-based mental health services, including increasing the number of mental health professionals.

Behavioral health treatments delivered in schools have been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress, behavioral disorders and substance abuse issues. A recent study of adolescent mental health finds that during the pandemic, students who felt close to people at school had significantly better mental health – for example, they were less likely to experience lingering feelings of sadness. and were less likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide — than those who did not feel close to people at school.

California’s recent multi-billion dollar investment in children’s mental health services aims to increase the number of school counselors and provides grants to schools for suicide prevention and crisis response. These resources will build on other state efforts to establish a collaborative framework to make schools “wellness centers” and to fund partnerships between health and education agencies to provide school-based mental health services for young people and their families. Given that the mental health effects of the pandemic are likely to be long-lasting, these investments in school services will be essential to address the far-reaching effects of social isolation, widespread illness and death, and potential economic hardship. for teenagers.

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