While it may seem that life is back to normal, many children are struggling because of the pandemic. Schools are seeing this firsthand through increases in absenteeism, lower academic performance, social-emotional difficulty and a rise in behavior issues.
Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told federal lawmakers that the pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on mental health in young Americans.
“I’m deeply concerned as a parent and as a doctor that the obstacles this generation of young people face are unprecedented and uniquely hard to navigate and the impact that’s having on their mental health is devastating,” Dr. Murthy told the Senate Finance Committee.
According to the CDC, emergency department visits for mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children ages 5-11 and 31% for children ages 12-17 between March and October 2020.
Throughout this pandemic, everyone has dealt with different levels of isolation and stress, compounded by constant change. But this has been especially difficult for children.
In his testimony to senators, Dr. Murthy recommended increasing access to mental health services for children through school and community-based programs; and that is precisely what the East Greenbush Central School District is doing.
In January, a mental health satellite clinic opened at Columbia High School and Howard L. Goff Middle School. The school district partnered with the Rensselaer County Department of Mental Health to bring a mental health clinician into each of those schools one day a week at no cost to the district. This service was added to the current support provided to students by school counselors, social workers and psychologists.
“We’re very excited to provide this service,” said Amibel Tineo, the mental health therapist working at the satellite clinic. “This makes it easier for students to take that first step (in getting help) because it’s in school.”
Ms. Tineo provides therapy to 22 students (15 from Goff and seven from Columbia) who have been referred to her. She schedules appointments based on the student’s schedule and is treating them for a variety of issues including anxiety and depression. All of the therapy is offered with parental consent and it is confidential.
To improve access and accommodate families, they have the choice of whether students receive therapy at school, at Ms. Tineo’s office in Troy or through telehealth appointments.
“During the last several years, the district has partnered with Rensselaer County Mental Health to discuss our common concerns regarding student mental health and to ensure we coordinate to provide access to vital services,” said Superintendent Jeff Simons. “I am grateful that these conversations have resulted in a partnership between our district and Rensselaer County Mental Health to provide students and families with accessible services located within our school buildings. These services will complement and support the ongoing work of our counselors and social workers within our schools.”
In addition to the new mental health satellite clinic, the school district hired two additional social workers at the start of this school year to help transition students back to school.
All of these efforts are being made to help students deal with the effects of the pandemic and improve their mental health and wellness.