Coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on student mental health

NOW: Coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on student mental health

GOSHEN, Ind. - This last year has been tough for everyone and that includes your kids. So this week on the Learning Curve our team is taking the time to address student mental health in the age of COVID.

The CDC has reported that in April 2020 the proportion of children’s mental health-related emergency room visits increased and remained high through October 2020.

In fact, compared to 2019, visits in 2020 increased by 24% for children 5-11 and 31% for teens 12-17.

This just shows that the pandemic has had an impact on children's mental health so I spoke to one specialist to see how they are supporting kids during this time.

"So we have seen, you know, kids who are especially kids who are more isolated. That has an impact on everyone again what we feel as adults is magnified for kids," Rebecca Shetler-Fast said. "Do they need mental health counseling, access to medication, family therapy?”

Shetler-Fast is the Director of SOURCE, Elkhart County’s System of Care and has years of experience helping kids deal with mental health needs.

"Generally we see zero to 18 so we see kids in preschool after-school programs, juvenile probation system, all the way to high school," she said.

SOURCE is housed at Oaklawn, a mental health clinic serving Northern Indiana. They don’t only provide direct help, but prevention too.

"If at all possible we're intervening early enough in sort of a public mental health model so that some kids don't even need to develop mental health challenges," she said.

Although nobody could’ve predicted or prevented what 2020 gave us, Shetler-Fast along with many other specialists are working hard against troubling trends.

"We're hearing there's now a somewhat of a trend that younger students are having kind of more challenges in schools more kind of heightened feelings of depression and anxiety," she said. "What we do expect for kids and younger people, is that they're resilient, and they bounce back so that in the end when we return to normal they go back to their kind of typical levels of functioning.”

Tana: Does the bounce back depend on age?

"Yeah," Shetler-Fast said. "So the the extreme trauma reactions are actually far fewer than we would think and so most people do adapt and grow from hard experiences. That's easier when we're younger.”

People deal with trauma differently, while one traumatic experience, “will be very intense and maybe lifelong.” Others will bounce back more quickly based on their previous life experiences.

“I'll say that there are a few things that would lend themselves to helping kids bounce back," she said.

There are two factors.

"We call them protective factors like things that kind of protect kids and family," she said.

First, having access to one supportive adult.

"A kid just needs one supportive adult in their lives to thrive and it doesn't need to be a parent could be a caregiver who's older could just be a teacher and neighbor, a faith leader," she said.

And second, having their basic needs met.

"So we know the most vulnerable families, maybe if they're faced eviction food shortages utilities, those kinds of stressors are really hard on families," she said. “If we can support caregivers, and their emotional needs or mental health needs are getting met then kids are probably less stressed too.”

However, some families struggle to find the resources to get the help they need.

"What the research has shown nationally and locally was similar that communities of color, generally have poor access to medical care and mental health care, typically runs along similar lines," she said.

That’s why Shetler-Fast works with organizations across Elkhart County.

"Supporting all the people who are on the frontlines, working with kids," she said.

So that every child has at least someone to talk to.

And what’s more?

"We are starting a county-wide child dashboard that tracks indicators for wellbeing for children, and it's going to be launched in September," she said. “Which will be the first one in the state tracking indicators of child wellbeing.

Tana: In Elkhart County?

"Yeah," she said. “I've been speculating with leaders that we will see kind of flare-ups or areas that are, that may surprise us where kids are struggling more.

Addressing trends head-on is a great step but supporting Michiana kids isn’t just up to the experts.

"If kids are experiencing more distress more anxiety. If things feel like they're out of the realm of kind of their typical or what we might call normal, you know there's a lot of resources here in the community,” Shetler-Fast said. "So just wanting people to know that it's an important thing to do, to ask for help and we're here to help.”

To continue focusing on student mental health, this Thursday we’re talking to a school counselor to see how kids are being helped right down at the school level and you’ll hear more from Rebecca on if students are falling through the cracks.

Any questions? Reach out to us! Learningcurve@abc57.com

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