STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — At least 70% of public schools across the United States have reported an increase in the number of students seeking mental health services at schools since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, new data shows..
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released data that shows the impact of the pandemic on students’ mental wellbeing — finding that a large majority of public schools reported an increase in students seeking services and a rise in staff concerns about students’ mental health.
Roughly 76% of schools reported an increase in staff voicing those concerns about students exhibiting symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma. And 56% believe they can effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.
“We’ve seen an increase in students seeking mental health services and in staff voicing concerns about students’ mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “The pandemic has taken a clear and significant toll on students’ mental health. This snapshot of the pandemic’s mental health impact is critical in informing the need for student mental health services.”
During the 2021-2022 school year, the most common type of mental health service provided by public schools was individual-based intervention, such as one-on-one counseling, at 84% of public schools. This was followed by case management, such as coordinating mental health support, at 70%, and external mental health referrals at 66%.
Nearly all (96%) public schools reported providing mental health services for their students during the current school year. However, 88% didn’t strongly agree they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.
The three most prevalent limitations were an insufficient number of mental health professionals to manage their school’s caseload, inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals and inadequate funding.
The findings are from the latest round of the monthly School Pulse Panel, which was designed to be nationally representative of public primary, middle, high, and combined-grade schools, with data collected between April 12 and April 26, 2022. A total of 830 schools participated in the April collection, according to NCES.
The data released can be found at the COVID-19 dashboard at https://ies.ed.gov/schoolsurvey/.
MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
Mental health among children and teenagers has been a topic of conversation since students returned to school in-person during the 2021-2022 school year, learning how to readapt to attending school on a daily basis and socializing with teachers, school staff and classmates.
People of all ages have had mental health issues spurred by the pandemic, and that includes children and teenagers — several doctors told the Advance/SILive.com. We recently spoke to health experts about the issues around youth and mental health amid the pandemic, including the warning signs, when to get help and resources available.
Some things to look out for in your child are any modifications in patterns, Dr. Avinash Boddapati, a child/adolescent psychiatrist at Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH), said. These include changes in the pattern of communicating with friends and family.
“For example, if they’re increasingly withdrawn, that would be a sign,” he said. “If there’s any changes in their sleep patterns, their eating patterns. That can also be indicative of them [mental health issues]. If parents are noticing that they’re not engaging in activities that they normally do or enjoy doing. That would be another thing to look out for.”
Joanne Pietro, assistant vice president of Behavioral Health Services/Staten Island Mental Health at Richmond University Medical Center, added that the change in a child’s behavior occurs over time. It can start out with small changes in appetite and sleep, and later parents may notice notice they’re more irritable, have low energy, and have trouble concentrating in school.
Kids and teens should also be monitored for intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that are ritualistic, Pietro said — such as repeated acts that are distressing. An example would be a child who can’t leave the house until he or she has washed his or her hands, or a ritual when it comes to dressing.
Boddapati said the first step is to communicate with the child to see what may be causing those changes.
Unless it is a safety concern, parents don’t need to bring a struggling child to the emergency room. If a child displays suicidal or non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors, or suicidal ideations, parents should visit the emergency room for evaluation.
Boddapati said, depending on how their life is impacted, children and adolescents can be brought in for an evaluation with a psychiatrist.