The pandemic has brought “a tidal wave of need” for mental health support for school children. Throughout the United States, school districts have tried to keep up with the demand coming from desperate school children but continue to struggle to provide enough resources in an entirely new environment.
Many school systems are operating at least in part virtually. Psychologists have to find new ways on how to reach families.
“Some counselors and psychologists show up at school meal or technology distribution sites to connect with families,” said Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, director of policy and advocacy at the National Association of School Psychologists (The Washington Post).
Suicide has reached a record high as the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. In Nevada, school systems have implemented a computer program that alerts schools and authorities if a student searches online for information that may suggest self-harm. The program runs 24/7, including overnight and on the weekends.
“Students are struggling across the board,” said Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult services at the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s the social isolation, the loneliness, the changes in their routines” (ibid). Students who struggled with mental health before the pandemic have seen a significant increase in their struggle. Many students who have never struggled with mental health before have found themselves in a very vulnerable position.
Jesus Jara, superintendent of the fifth-largest school system in the nation, lost ten students and two 2020 graduates to suicide in the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year compared to nine students for the full previous school year.
While schools across the nation are trying to do what they can to make a dent in the issue, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated how many school districts in states across the nation were falling short with mental health funding and services leading up to the pandemic. The American School Counselor Association has recommended one counselor for every 250, but the national average is one to every 430. The national average for “school-based psychologists is one to nearly 1,400 students, almost three times the recommendation” (ibid.).
In SWFL, mental health leaders say we have reached a ‘crisis point’ for kids. Southwest Florida’s mental health support system was already underfunded and under-resourced before the pandemic. Now it has reached a crisis point, and many children are the ones suffering. Emad Salman, chief physician executive and vice president of operations at Golisano Children’s Services, said, “visits to Golisano’s pediatric behavioral health facility nearly tripled from 4,500 in 2018 to more than 12,000 in 2020. The system and community have improved access, but wait time to see a behavioral health professional at Golisano is about eight months” (News-Press).
The Uyeno Foundation’s mission is to fund initiatives that promote positive mental health through prevention, intervention, treatment, and education. While our focus is on the local community in Southwest Florida, we want to shed light on mental health challenges throughout our nation – especially the emergent needs of children and frontline workers. In this case, our teachers are the frontline workers who are being faced with unforeseen challenges.
If you are a teacher or administrator serving in Southwest Florida, please share your positive and proactive thoughts about how we can all work together to improve the way we meet our teachers and school children’s needs in the comments below.