Kids Are Back in School — and Struggling With Mental Health Issues

Schools across the country are overwhelmed with K-12 students struggling with mental health problems, according to school staff, pediatricians and mental health care workers. Not only has this surge made the return to classrooms more challenging to educators, it’s also taxing an already strained health-care system.

Of course, the rise in children’s mental health symptoms didn’t start with this school year. Recent studies show that the pandemic exacerbated an already growing crisis in youth mental health. CDC data shows that the proportion of mental health emergency visits for kids started going up early on in the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry declared an emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

According to data from the Children’s Hospital Association, there were more than 47,000 mental health visits to emergency departments at 38 children’s hospitals around the country in the first three quarters of 2021 – nearly 40% higher than the same period in 2020.

And the situation has worsened in recent months.

Stressed students are hurting others — and themselves

Schools are seeing many kids acting younger than their age, says Dr. Vera Feuer, an associate vice president of school mental health at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in Long Island.

“In some districts, they are seeing really alarming numbers of fights among students,” says Bob Mullaney, the superintendent of suburban Boston school district Millis Public Schools.

In addition, Mullaney says there have been recent reports of violence against those in authority: a school principal in Massachusetts was assaulted by a student, he says, and other schools have had staff members assaulted by students.

And many students are hurting themselves. There has been a rise in students reporting self-harm, suicidal thoughts and attempts in his district, says Mullaney.

The psychological cost of a year away from in-person school

Much of this increase in reports of mental health issues stems from the stress of returning to school, says Dr. Tami Benton, psychiatrist-in-chief at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, referring to her and her colleagues’ observations working with patients and schools.

“The year that they were out of school was a year that they didn’t have the opportunities for developing the social skills that normally happen during their period of development,” she says.

And many kids who developed symptoms of mental health problems during the first year of the pandemic didn’t get help right away because they were away from school staff who might have spotted symptoms early on.

A perfect storm: more need for help, harder to get it

With an already saturated health-care system, kids and families are struggling to get timely help.

“You’re seeing this perfect storm of just the increased need [and] difficulty accessing care,” says psychiatrist Feuer, referring to the demand on mental health professionals.

As a result, families are left with no options but to take their child to a hospital emergency room for diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues, especially if the child is in a crisis.

Excerpted from “Kids Are Back in School — and Struggling With Mental Health Issues” on NPR. Read the full article online.

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Source: NPR | Kids Are Back in School — and Struggling With Mental Health Issues, | © 2022 npr

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