The COVID-19 crisis may soon be over, but the youth mental health crisis is only just beginning
This month we mark Mental Health Awareness Month at a time when our children’s mental health, has already reached a breaking point.
Increasing rates of anxiety, stress, and self-harm among young people were already a rising concern prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the isolation, school closures, and economic anxiety of this public health crisis have further exacerbated these problems and created new barriers to treatment.
And even as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, many students are still feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted.
Thankfully, the Biden administration has taken a proactive approach to addressing many of these concerns, by pushing to reopen schools quickly and providing funding to state and local governments to ensure they are equipped with the resources needed to ensure student safety and restore trust in our nation’s public education systems.
But doctors and officials across the country are warning that simply getting our kids back into school is not enough to address the deep psychological wounds they have experienced.
While there currently is not enough nationwide data to suggest an increase in youth suicides linked to the pandemic, doctors across the country have noted a recent uptick in the number of young people experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety, panic, and suicidal ideation. And they warn these problems could become even worse in the weeks and months to come.
We already know that many mental disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), can emerge well after the immediate impact of distressing experiences and traumatic events.
As students return to school, many will continue to grapple with the anxiety and grief of losing loved ones to the pandemic, while others will face new challenges with homelessness, food insecurity, or unemployment.
Others may face increased bullying, anger management issues, or opportunities to obtain substances through peers. Still more will feel increased pressure to achieve after a year of learning losses.
And our youngest students, many of whom may not even be able to remember a time before the pandemic, may experience separation anxiety, feelings of abandonment, or struggle to interact with teachers and peers after a year spending almost every waking moment in the familiar company of their parents and siblings.
Ultimately this could lead to a whole new kind of public health crisis driven by an entire generation of kids unable to cope with their new post-pandemic reality.
That’s why as chair of the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittee, I have made it one of my top priorities to ensure our nation’s kids get the mental health support and services they need not only during the pandemic, but in the months and years that follow.
In March, I held a hearing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s already growing mental health and substances use crises. And I am continuing to push for increased targeted funding for mental health and counseling services in our nation’s schools.
This includes funding for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a program dedicated to increasing awareness of mental health issues among students, providing training for school personnel to detect and respond to the mental health issues students may be experiencing, and connecting students and their families to the services they need.
This pandemic has certainly been difficult for all of us and has had a detrimental impact on mental health for Americans both young and old. But while it is certainly just as important to continue our efforts to increase mental health services and access for all Americans, it is especially important to ensure our nation’s children are among the first in line.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro serves as chair of the House Appropriations Committee and the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. She represents Connecticut’s 3rd District in the United States House of Representatives.