It's not news to you that the mental health of everyone has been greatly impacted by the last 2 years. This has been a collective trauma for pretty much the entire world and we will not know the longstanding impact of what it has done on our mental health for a long time. We are still living in it and the drawn-out nature of the pandemic has only hurt our mental health further. Last summer we debuted our What Our Kids Want Us to Know Series to actually sit down with children and young adults to hear directly from them how they were doing. A lot of our focus was on distance learning and the changes to their social lives.
We knew that the second they stepped foot back into their school buildings things were not going to magically get better. In fact, for many students, this only caused more anxiety. As a continuation of our What Our Kids Want Us to Know Series, we checked back in with some of the students we spoke with previously, as well consulted with experts in the field, and read through the Child Mind Report which is a goldmine that allowed us to prematurely look into an issue that will take many years to fully research.
"Yeah, my grades have been a huge point of stress for me. When I was in high school I had over a 4.0 and then my freshman year of college was distance learning and it was not the GPA I had expected from myself. I think parents just need to realize that we aren't going to produce our normal grades because nothing has been normal about school. I wouldn't say my grades are better this year because in some ways distance learning made some classes easier because the professors didn't necessarily know how to regulate an online class. I was nervous to go back to class because I wasn't so sure that I had retained much from my online classes but I do find comfort in a lot of my classmates feeling the same way. Now that I'm back in person though I feel like I am actually learning again. It's hard like college classes are supposed to be not hard because we are in a pandemic. I'll take that as a small win." said one of the students when we checked in with him.
Grades have and always will be a stressor for students and for many parents. However, we are hearing from both students and experts alike that it's a good time to have priorities elsewhere for the moment. We spoke with Dr. Kristen Henessy to see if she was noticing any trends with her patients about what is causing them stress. Again, grades prove to be at the top of many students' minds. "I keep hearing things like; 'When I went into quarantine, I had A's and B's. My teachers sent me my work, and at first, it was fine, and I did it and it went fine. But they were just sending me the work, and I wasn't there to learn how to do it, so after a few weeks, I couldn't follow it anymore and I stopped doing it. But now I have D's and F's and I'm so frustrated. I'm going back to school and I'm so behind and everyone's going to be mad at me. And I still can barely stay awake and my doctor says I still have brain fog. I hate that I'm in trouble and I don't even know how I'm going to catch up.' So, I think that parents need to be aware of this, be supportive and advocate for their kids who are transitioning back into the classroom after COVID. Kids need support catching up with their academics and be supported in the very real fall-out of being in the home." said Dr. Hennessy.
The Child Mind's Report helps to paint a very important picture; children were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The report details that people in the following categories had a greater impact on their mental health than others:
people who lived in areas with more severe outbreaks
people in urban areas
family members of healthcare workers
People of color (particularly Latinx individuals)
people with preexisting mental health challenges
parents of young children
Other characteristics that they found that put children at a greater risk for psychological distress include children who:
had a preexisting mental health challenge (depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.)
had experienced a previous trauma
are experiencing food insecurity/economically vulnerability
are experiencing a disproportionate disruption to one's daily schedule
The report goes on to mention that the most common mental health symptoms that have been reported by a group of surveyed teenagers are; general anxiety (40%), depression (39%), and social anxiety (31%). They quoted a school counselor who said; "After spending most of the year remote learning, many students have lost appropriate social and communication skills." which obviously contributes directly to social anxiety.
Dr. Hennesy shared with us that a major source of many of her (especially younger) patients' anxieties is the confusion associated with what is "right" and "wrong". This is a topic she shared with us earlier this year about mask-wearing but she says vaccinations have been added to children's points of stress; "I am hearing more kids being profoundly impacted by the family conflict around vaccines, etc. Kids need to hear from us that all adults love them and care about them and that right now adults do not all agree about what is best, and that is why they are upset. I think that our children need us to share a clear message that adults are getting upset with each other but that they're not upset with the children, and no one is out to get them."
As a parent who is raising a child who is struggling, or a provider working with families, you most likely know that many of the challenges we are facing as a society are not new to COVID-19, just exasperated. Even before the pandemic, it was difficult to find a provider for your child, let alone the right provider for them. According to the Child Mind Institute report; about 1/2 of the estimated 7.7 million children in the U.S. who had a treatable mental health disorder in 2016 did not receive adequate treatment.
A problem that existed in 2016 is now a crisis. Children's mental health is worse than ever and waitlists continue to grow longer and longer. We received some interesting feedback recently from someone in the adult mental health field which shows how difficult it is to be raising a child who is struggling right now. "We don't offer referrals to minors but no exaggeration I get 10 calls a day from parents. They were wrongly told by their insurance company that we would be able to help. Insurance companies don't always have the most accurate or timely information but a lot of people trust what they are told by their insurance company because they pay an arm and a leg for it and why wouldn't they have the correct info?"
"What makes it even worse is that they are so relieved to talk to me. I am probably the 30th call of their day and I can hear the relief when they actually get someone on the phone. At that point, they are so eager to get their child help that they just start spouting out all of the information that they think we will need and I have to stop them and tell them that we don't accept referrals for minors. As a father, it breaks my heart. I remember when my own daughter was having learning challenges and you just look anywhere and everywhere for help. It's a very helpless feeling to not be able to find your child the help they need. I try to relate to them as a parent and be as compassionate as possible. I may not be the help they were looking for but I don't want to add any negative experiences they may have had thus far. I give them different resources and websites to check but I know it's not the same. I absolutely adore my job and my work of connecting people with mental health services but this is by far the worst part of it. I hate to break it to them that their call with me is just another dead end."
Our Family Support Partners are finding the exact same issue. Over 47% of the families who are currently working with one of our FSPs have children sitting on a waiting list. Obviously, our FSPs are all parents, and just like the father we spoke with above, it's heartbreaking to them. Thankfully they are able to provide support, help parents navigate systems and find resources while they wait. However, it is becoming all too apparent that this already massive issue with the lack of children's mental health providers is getting worse and worse by the day, as the demand for them grows exponentially.
If you are a family with a child on a waiting list, or you are just starting to consider getting your child mental health services but don't know where to start - give us a call at 570-644-8615 or click the button below. Our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL FSPs are just a phone call away and they are eager to help you help your child.