Pandemic Leaves Schools Scurrying for Better Mental Health Resources

Students may be getting back to school, but mental health issues from the pandemic linger.

Pandemic Leaves Schools Scurrying for Better Mental Health Resources

The coronavirus pandemic has left a mark on school systems in more ways than most people ever imagined. New safety protocols, virtual and hybrid instruction were two of the most prominent. But as organizations such as the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital uncover the impact the pandemic has had on students’ mental health, school districts are faced with the additional hurdle of enhancing their mental health services.

According to C.S. Mott, more than one-third of teen girls and one-fifth of teen boys have new or worsening anxiety as a result of the pandemic.

Most schools simply aren’t equipped to handle this new burden, with one psychologist responsible for as many as 3,000 students, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. No state in the country meets the recommended ratio of 250 students per social worker.

Getting schools up to speed, says Robert Boyd, president and CEO of the School-Based Health Alliance, will take at least a decade as training programs as well as the mental health workforce are currently in short supply and most mental health providers are concentrated in cities.

Still, schools are taking solid steps in the right direction. According to a May 30 report by USA Today, many districts are adding behavioral health programs, and social workers are making it a point to assess students through surveys for signs of distress.

“We have to be careful and ask, ‘Is everything OK?’ We message the conversation from there and then find out about sleepless nights,” says Terrilyn Rivers-Cannon, a social worker at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta.

Also in the meantime, retooling state Medicaid plans could provide some relief, enabling districts to add more mental health providers. Already this is gaining some momentum. USA Today reports that 11 states have recently amended their laws to allow school social workers and psychologists to bill for time they spend with any Medicaid-enrolled student.

Ultimately, the best remedy, experts say, are getting back into a routine and spending time with friends.

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