Back to school raises mental health issues

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The back-to-school nervousness took on a whole new meaning this year.
For some returning students, managing in-person socialization, academic expectations, and changing COVID-19 guidelines have given rise to anxiety and other mental health issues.
“This is uncharted territory for a lot of adults, let alone children. None of us have experienced a pandemic. The [are] very few experts on how to deal with children in the type of situation that we survive, ”said Danielle Kowalski, clinical supervisor of inpatient psychiatry at Ellis Hospital. “We’re seeing an increase in anxiety, depression, that sort of thing.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between March and May of last year, hospitals in the United States saw a 24% increase in the number of emergency mental health visits by children aged 5 to 11. years and a 31% increase for children aged 12 to 17.
Earlier this summer, Ellis opened a new child, youth and family mental health center to meet the growing demand for mental health services in the capital region. It couldn’t come too soon either, as the wait list for local adolescent mental health services can reach hundreds, according to Kowalski.
Christina Moran, the practice administrator for outpatient mental health at the Ellis Medicine Mental Health Clinic, found that some teens they had worked with before the pandemic were doing well with virtual schooling. At the same time, some who had previously thrived in school became depressed during the pandemic, as they were isolated from their classmates and teachers.
“I have a feeling we’re going to see the pendulum go back the other way now,” Moran said.
The clinic added two more clinicians to its staff and met student clients both virtually and in person.
“We really got creative and did what we can to meet with them and make sure they get the services they need. We even have virtual playrooms so they can still do play therapy for us. So we just got creative and tried to learn as we went and do everything we could to make sure we are there for our customers, ”said Moran.
At the central school district of Schenectady, the student services department has been on the bridge, especially when it comes to mental health. As vice-principals Donna Fowler and Dr Rebecca DeVries prepared for the start of the school year, they were guided by a wellness survey they had conducted at the end of the previous school year.
“[Students] really stated that they felt anxious and worried about coming back, that they had really left school for a long time, that they had been virtual for a long time, but the students were also worried about getting sick, ”said Fowler. “They were worried about making their family members sick. . . . I would say it’s the same that students all over the country are feeling. It’s just a lot of anxiety to have been home for a long time and now to be back in buildings with fears and going back to school.
As students return to school, counselors, teachers and other school staff focus on building relationships and a sense of community.
“Right now we’re really focused on relationships and security. It won’t be a six week reopening. We fully intend it to be paired with rigorous academics over time, ”said DeVries.
Stronger bonds between teachers / staff and students could mean that staff members can identify and help students who may be struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. The district also has a crisis prevention team, which includes three clinical social workers and a psychiatric nurse practitioner. The team was the first of its kind in the region and was established in part because of long wait lists for local mental health services.
“We also had so many of our students hospitalized for mental health needs and they went to crisis units for a psychiatric assessment and then they had to stay longer. We wanted to reduce those hospitalization rates. By developing this team, we can fill some gaps for students, ”said DeVries.
Colleges and high schools in the district also have a diversion team, which is an alternative to suspension and provides mental health screenings and connects them with counseling or other services.
In the central school district of Ballston Spa, their mental health services expanded to the elementary school level just before the start of the pandemic.
“It was a great help to have counselors at all levels, especially throughout the pandemic, as they would reach out and families would in turn contact them if there was a need or need. concern. It could be anxiety, it could be job loss, ”said Sharon D’Agostino, director of student support services.
Even with the increase in staff, there are still a lot of unknowns.
“We didn’t know what to expect when the kids came back and we still don’t,” D’Agostino said. “We also don’t know that things aren’t going to pop up much later and it isn’t necessarily the students. . . who have had problems in the past or not. There are children who will have anxiety issues that can arise just from being out of school for so long and then coming back. ”
Uncertainty about how the school year will unfold and whether or not students will be able to stay in classrooms all year round can be a cause of anxiety for some students, according to Brandon Beachamp, principal of the School Mental Health Resource and Training Center. , which is part of the Mental Health Association of New York State, Inc.
“In the traditional, ‘normal’ era, adults have all the answers and I think what we’ve seen is adults say ‘we don’t have all the answers.’ I can’t give you any certainty, ”said Beachamp.
Beyond concerns about COVID-19, Beachamp said students might also be worried about meeting their classmates face to face.
“As adults, we experienced this in our own way. We have been away from people for a long time and if we reduce it and think of an 8 year old child for example, they do not have as much experience as an adult, so it is more impacting for them ”, a declared Beachamp.
“It’s a transition like anything else; [parents] may notice that children are more oppositional. They may notice more difficult behaviors, ”Kowalski said.
To all parents who have started noticing changes in their children’s behavior, Moran recommends seeking help as soon as possible from a primary care physician, the child’s school, or a therapist.
At Schenectady, as students began entering classrooms earlier this month, Fowler was impressed by their resilience.
“I was so. . . amazed at how excited and happy the kids were to be in school. Yes, we know they may need things that we can’t even anticipate yet, but I think we have a system well enough in place that we are preventive and not reactive and have support in place. to be able to have the transition be successful for them, ”Fowler said.

Planned walk

In support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there will be a Walk Out of Darkness on September 26 at the Orenda Pavilion in Saratoga Springs and on October 3 in Central Park in Schenectady.
Organized by CRNY – Capital Region NY Chapter, the local marches are part of a national goal to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20% per year in the United States by 2025.
“Suicide affects one in five American families. We hope that as we walk we will bring attention to this issue and prevent other families from grieving by suicide. Our ultimate goal is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide, ”said Sandra Goldmeer, Regional Director of CRNY.
Beyond the walks in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, there is also one scheduled for October 2 at Dutchman’s Landing in Catskill. This year’s goal is $ 250,000 and between all the walks, more than 1,000 participants are expected. Masks will be strongly encouraged, as will social distancing.
Registration is free and there is no fundraising requirement. The event will not only include the walk, but other awareness and commemoration activities.
“These marches aim to turn hope into action,” AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia said in a statement. “Research has shown us how to fight suicide, and if we keep fighting, science will only get better and our culture will become smarter when it comes to mental health. With the efforts of our courageous volunteers and real investment from our nation’s leaders, we hope to dramatically reduce the suicide rate in the United States.
To register or for more information, visit afsp.org/Capitalregiontogether.

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