It is a hard time to be a student in the public school system. The recent elementary school shooting in Texas has taken a toll, and according to a study from an independent government agency, 7 out of 10 public schools said there was an increase in children asking for mental health services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This study was done by the Institute of Education Sciences. They found that requests rose across all demographics including region, school size and level, minority students, and those who live in poverty. There was just a slight majority of public schools that reported that they moderately or strongly agree they can provide effective mental health services to their students.
This agency is a part of the Education Department, and they developed what they called the School Pulse Panel to look at the impact of the pandemic on a sampling of elementary, middle, high, and combined schools throughout the nation.
The study began in January and will conclude in June. Each month, they are looking at school formats and health policies. They will focus on different topics related to the pandemic’s impact on education.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 percent of teenagers reported that they were “persistently sad” during the pandemic. And in April, the study found in their study of mental health and well-being that 85 percent of the schools asked their staff to address the emotional and mental health of their students. A total of 56 percent offered help to teachers so that they could improve the mental health of students.
Over 40 percent of schools have created or built up a mental health program for students. Many have hired new staff to focus on the well-being of the students. Fifty-six percent of public schools indicated that they at least “moderately agree” that they can effectively help students who have mental health needs, but a third of those who responded said that they at least “moderately disagree” that they can assist. These schools indicated that they have inadequate access to licensed professionals and they have too few staff to cover the caseloads of students that have mental health needs.
The reality is that according to Psychology Today, the mental health of young people has been in decline for many years. It predates the pandemic. They attribute this to many issues like substance use, climate change, racial injustice, income inequality, and gun violence.
Some states have incorporated mental health awareness into teaching using platforms like SEL – Social Emotional Learning. The state of New York has mandated mental health curriculum in K-12 and mental health awareness policies in every school.
Candida Fink, M.D. is board certified in child/adolescent and general psychiatry. She believes students and their families are burned out. “Keeping up with all of these expectations—and getting blamed when kids struggle—sucks the life out of families. Arguments, meltdowns, and homework despair yield constant feelings of guilt and inadequacy. It’s never enough,” Fink said.
She went on to describe that it wasn’t just academic. She said that our culture expects kids to participate in sports or clubs, the arts, or theater. Then, we mandate that those activities don’t interfere with studies.
Dr. Fink says that task completion is the primary goal in public schools, but from a psychiatrist’s perspective developmental, physical and mental health needs are at least as important if not more important than finishing an assignment.
The pandemic may have been the event that opened up this issue that has needed to be addressed for some time.