Confronting the psychological well being disaster amongst our younger folks – Santa Cruz Sentinel
As we approach 2022, students will stay on winter break before returning to schools. What many will bring with them is renewed concern about whether schools will continue to offer face-to-face learning.
For most UC students, including UC Santa Cruz, classes are offered remotely for the first two weeks of the next session, allowing campus to update COVID-19 tests.
For K-12 students, Governor Gavin Newsom announced last week that 6 million free home rapid tests will be sent to California schools and partner groups – enough, he said, for all K-12 students to be screened before returning to the classroom the holiday.
What the government cannot fix, however, is the dramatic increase in mental and emotional problems students of all ages experience.
In the US, college counseling services reported that significantly more students reported struggles with anxiety and depression and other mental / emotional problems. These were pre-pandemic issues; The ongoing surge in Omicron’s COVID-19 variant will only exacerbate the problems.
Mental health is the leading cause of hospitalization for children under the age of 18 in California today. As a national trend reflects, 45% of California teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 reported having had some recent mental health problems, with nearly a third of them having had serious mental health problems that could affect their academic and social functioning. according to a recent report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
Absenteeism remains high in many California school districts. More and more children are having thoughts of suicide or appear withdrawn or overly nervous. Behavioral problems are also on the rise, including fights on campus like the one that killed an Aptos High School student early in the school year.
And as with college students, the psychological distress of our young people has been worryingly falling for years. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy noted earlier this month that the proportion of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40% from 2009 to 2019, and thoughts of suicide increased almost as much.
The pandemic with forced social isolation and fear of contagion with COVID-19 only made things worse, Murthy said.
The problem is particularly acute with blacks, Latinos and students from poorer families, often in communities that are particularly stressed during the pandemic.
It’s not that schools or state governments are ignoring the harrowing problems. Newsom and state lawmakers invested $ 4.4 billion in the state budget for 2021-22 to improve the state’s behavioral health programs for youth. State health authorities are building a system of routine screening, support and services for emerging and existing mental health needs of all children and adolescents up to the age of 25. However, hiring qualified advisors has so far been problematic. It is now almost impossible for many families to even get an appointment with a qualified therapist or psychiatrist.
There is no one-size-fits-all, simple solution to what children experience.
One area to start in is organized community effort to educate parents and other adults in children’s lives about how to recognize the signs of depression and anxiety, and what resources are available to help children. Schools can establish peer groups to train students to look out for signs of emotional problems and to keep company with children who are hurt or feel alone. Murthy urges parents to watch out for and talk to their children, and urges social media companies to take more safety precautions.
And yes, schools must remain open to face-to-face learning, but the commitment to provide emotional and social support must be community-wide, provide caring and empathetic relationships with injured young people, and work to ensure they are connected to their family, School and community.