Peeling Away Another Layer of COVID-19

Unfortunately, it has become the new norm. Playdates for four-year-olds take place through closed windows as the children slide their toy cars together on either side of the glass. A high school student has increased anxiety about his mother working in a food-packing warehouse, where she is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.


And yet another teen laments, “there is nothing to look forward to,” as he tries to avoid slipping into depression. School district hotlines are busy fielding calls from worried parents who are seeking some relief for their troubled children. These parents are looking for emotional support and direction as to how to help their children.


What many don’t realize is that, even before the pandemic, rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide were on the rise among adolescents, and schools—which have in many areas become the de facto mental health-care providers for children in their communities—have been struggling to keep ahead of the ever-growing need.


The seemingly endless string of disappointments — no prom or graduation, athletic events, favorite activities, or just “chilling” with friends combined with indefinite isolation is taking its emotional toll. After all, we’re talking about kids with no experience in dealing with such heavy issues that don’t seem to have an end.


Not long ago, researchers found that children who were quarantined for disease containment scored four times higher on a post-traumatic stress test than those who were not.


Unable to Meet the Current Need

According to a recent Education Week Research Center Survey, fewer than a quarter of school leaders say they’ve been able to meet students’ mental health needs at the same level before the coronavirus pandemic.


The situation is particularly grim for urban schools, where only 5 percent of school leaders say they have been able to maintain the same level of mental health care.


The mental health of their students is a top priority for many administrators and teachers at this point. In Education Week’s survey, the vast majority of district leaders and teachers indicated that they are quite concerned about students missing mental health services during school closures.


And the Mental Health Needs are Growing


But the problem is not limited to the inability to address existing mental health problems. As school closures drag on in many states, student morale has sunk. Over three-quarters of teachers and district leaders surveyed in March said that student morale was lower than before schools closed.


To be sure, not all children will suffer trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students have already learned healthy coping skills. But many new factors will likely cause the numbers of affected students to grow. Some will experience the loss of a loved one. And others may witness substance abuse, neglect, violence, or abuse while secluded at home during the coronavirus outbreak, experts said.


Wide-ranging research has shown that children who face adverse childhood experiences have a higher risk of worsening chronic diseases, autoimmune diseases, asthma, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse deep into adulthood. At higher risk are children who have experienced untreated trauma before this outbreak.


Experts say that when kids return to campuses, the demand for mental health care will be higher than the available services, as the effects of the COVID-19 disruptions are affecting children across societal strata throughout the country. But schools that have become the safe havens providing many children with mental health care are unprepared to support the expected overwhelming need.


“We’re only going through the first wave of the disaster,” said Dr. Curley Bonds, chief medical officer for the L.A. County Department of Mental Health. “This is the equivalent of people waiting on rooftops to be saved after Hurricane Katrina.”


How Schools are Responding

Despite what appears to be an overwhelming situation, the vast majority of district leaders say they have a plan to support students’ mental health needs even while the school closures continue.


Also, many schools are training their teachers in mindfulness and stress reduction. And they are working programs to help students build resilience. In some districts, student safety and wellness deans who used to deal mainly with discipline referrals now provide check-ins and weekly support sessions for students who are struggling with being home and alone.


Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis

The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy.