School psychologist weigh in on growing mental health concerns in children

NOW: School psychologist weigh in on growing mental health concerns in children


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In March of 2020, the nation declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national public health emergency. However, this crisis struck at a time when another public health crisis was in full force.   

According to the CDC, before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of poor life outcomes in young people. 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. reported having mental, or behavioral disorders.

From 2009 to 2019, high school students’ feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, which is 1 in 3 students.

Suicide rates among the ages of 10 to 24 increased by 57% between 2007- 2018. Early estimates show there have been more than 6,600 suicide deaths among this age group in 2020.

In December, the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory on the ongoing youth mental health crisis saying it has only been exposed further through the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is a crisis that is being felt here, locally, too.

“I think the unknown, the not knowing from one time to another and really experiencing frustration and make as much progress as they need to make,” says Gini Thomas, School Psychologist for School City of Mishawaka.  

Gini Thomas is just one of several school psychologists for the School City of Mishawaka district. Thomas explains even now with in-person learning, the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt both emotionally and academically.

“There has always been a curriculum map where you have to hit certain things throughout the school year, and it has been hard because some of our students especially those in second grade and below have never had a real school year yet.”

In her role, she works with students, parents and staff to start a conversation and a plan to better help kids succeed. Her advice? First, monitor your kids’ social media. Kids are spending more time online, and these hours spent are known to negatively impact their mental health.

Also, keep kids to a routine. The schedules and structure will help eliminate frustrations they might find in the classroom. Read to your children daily for at least 20 minutes. Spending time with your kids whether answering their questions, or listening to their thoughts and feelings is important for their development.

But something on the list that might surprise you? For the parents, do not forget to have your own self-care time.

“Take care of yourselves because you cannot take care of your children, if you cannot take care of yourself.”

The pandemic continues to be a crisis on the health of not only students but parents, and staff alike. Many have lost the lives of loved ones, or are experiencing the hopelessness that comes from these ongoing crises.  

So, Thomas says above all, work with one another. Having open and honest conversations is the best way to take care of the youth of this community.

“And being able to be willing to partner with the schools and being honest about your limitations as a parent and how the school can be helpful and using the resources the school suggests for them.”

Further resources can be found here.  

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