Original article written by Trade Offs.
Kids are returning to in-person school this fall with increased rates of depression, anxiety and other pandemic-fueled mental health challenges, and schools are leaning on billions in new federal funding to meet the growing need.
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The Basics: Youth Mental Health
Even before the pandemic, young people in the U.S. were increasingly struggling with mental health. Rates of youth depression, anxiety and suicide have all gone up over the last decade, and kids of color were less likely to access mental health services than their white peers.
While we don’t yet have definitive national data on how the pandemic has impacted youth mental health, the evidence we do have strongly suggests it has exacerbated the problem as kids deal with isolation, economic and family instability, fear of getting sick, and grief over lost loved ones. Data from the CDC show emergency department (ED) visits for mental health and suicide for kids have gone up, and research suggests rates for anxiety and depression have too.
¹ Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged <18 Years During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 1–October 17, 2020 (CDC MMWR, 11/13/2020)
² Emergency Department Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts Among Persons Aged 12–25 Years Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 2019–May 2021 (CDC MMWR, 6/18/2021)
³ COVID Experiences Survey, United States, October 8–November 13, 2020 (CDC MMWR, 3/19/2021)
Back-to-School: Opportunities and Challenges for School Mental Health
Schools have long played a key role in providing mental health services to America’s youth, and a large body of research finds that school-based mental health care can lead to increased access to care (especially for low-income and minority students), improved treatment adherence, better outcomes, decreased stigma and improved academic performance.
Nearly 4 million kids between 12 and 17 got mental health services in an educational setting in 2019 (roughly the same number who saw a specialist outside of school), and an oft-cited study from 2000 suggests as many as 80% of kids who receive mental health services get them at school. This includes students who see a school counselor, social worker or psychologist, as well as those who use school-based health centers, which are usually operated by a community health center or local hospital and located on school grounds.
With so many kids returning to classrooms with mental health needs this fall, many states and school districts are using some of the more than $190 billion of COVID-19 relief money Congress has set aside for K-12 education to increase their mental health services.