That’s not the half of it!
As of April 19 all adults and teens over 16 are eligible to receive the COVID 19 vaccine. If enough people accept the opportunity, we will reach herd immunity by early summer and life will be good- or will it.
Since the pandemic began, children and adolescents have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and stress and even more specific issues of addictive internet behavior (Education Week, March 31,2021). The CDC has reported that the percentage of children 5-11 visiting emergency rooms for a mental health crisis has risen 24% in the last year. Among 12-17 year-olds, that percentage of increase is 31%. It is a good thing that with the vaccine we will all be fine, except that we won’t.
Experts tell us that the mental health impact of the pandemic is just beginning and will be with us for years to come. There are significan differences between those students attending school in-person, hybrid and totally remotely. First of all, kids need other adults beside their parents to turn to for guidance. For students that is usually some respected/loved adult at school. In fact, 84% of the students attending school in-person say they look to a teacher for that support. Yet with all virtual teaching only 64% of students still feel they have that support from a teacher. This situation is particularly true for low-income kids.
Our country already does not treat mental health needs with the same intensity and support as it does physical health. Some health plans have been forced to include mental health services. And even plans that have the service, it is generally dramatically less strong than for physical health.
Many older students in communities without the technology supports for online learning have just “evaporated” from the school system. Public school enrollments are down dramatically. In higher income areas, those kids have gone to private schools. In lower-income areas, those kids have gone to the streets.
We are going to need many more social workers, guidance counselors, pupil personnel workers in our schools once we are back in the school buildings. That is expensive and with public school enrollments down, that will mean less money for schools to do anything. Some school districts are bragging because they plan on keeping teachers they no longer need with decreased enrollments. That money could be better spent on mental health professionals for the students who have stayed with the public schools.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for mental health issues and no great clamor to develop therapies.
The vaccines are great but they are only our hope to win half of the battle. It’s the second half that is going to be a great deal harder.