COVID, mental health and schools: our kids are suffering and it’s not all right
The single largest domestic policy error in recent American history is the prolonged closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and the disregard for our youth’s well-being.
The New York Times recently reported on the rising prevalence of mental illness and suicide among adolescents the last couple of years.
Did we really need a year of data to show us children were suffering?
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While the histrionics of educator and social justice demonstrations captured the attention of much of the media early in the pandemic, the harm being done to children was getting less fanfare.
Increased mental health visits by teens were being reported by Fair Health in August 2020 from assessing insurance claims during March and April during the first wave of the pandemic, but pediatricians and other experts remained quiet.
Global data showed school reopening did not cause a rise in community viral transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even state on their website that school reopening for in-person learning does not pre-date increases in community transmission. But evidence of the harms of closure was piling up.
Prioritizing a return to normalcy for our children will not only decrease the risk of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, but potentially help identify a child struggling in silence.
Yet, schools remained d. In early 2022, 10% of all U.S. schools still had some form of remote learning. Many still do. Prioritizing a return to normalcy for our children will not only decrease the risk of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, but potentially help identify a child struggling in silence.
The consequences are mounting, and we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
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Late in 2021, the U.S. surgeon general issued an advisory on the growing mental health crisis in America’s youth. Leading mental health experts spoke on the urgency to the Senate Education Committee in March 2022.
Rising mental illness in adolescents pre-dated the pandemic. Social isolation from pandemic-related restrictions fueled the existing mental health problem, especially as it pertains to gun violence in young people.
Gun violence overtook car accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the U.S. in 2020, according to a New England Journal of Medicine report.
Data from the from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed a nearly 30% increase in gun-related deaths among kids from 2019 to 2020, including suicide, accidental shootings and homicides.
The entrance sign for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 28, 2011.
While the tragedy at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, brings forth the gun-control conversation, not all kids dying from firearms are dying in high-profile mass shootings.
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Securing firearms in the home is basic. How children still get hold of them and accidentally kill themselves is mind-boggling and can only be attributed to negligence on the adult’s part. In addition to the devastation of losing a child, judicial punishment should be considered to help deter future incidents.
Intentional killings, however, are more complex.
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But children are also purposely killing themselves at a higher rate.
Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among pre-teens and teenagers. Still, our youth is not being made a priority.
Research has shown up to 80% of adolescents who died by suicide had an appointment with a health care professional the year leading up to their death. Sadly, routine health visits were down 60% throughout the pandemic and have still not reached pre-pandemic levels. Even now, there isn’t a formal recommendation to check in with the kids to see if they have suicidal thoughts.
The rising homicide among youth increased during the pandemic from a culmination of factors: defund the police movements, increasing unemployment, school closures and lack of adequate resources for support. All of this has contributed to the rise in violence.
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Public health policies have failed our children, and some have died because of it.
While mental health matters, despite best efforts and future strategies, children will never be entirely safe from evil.
No one cares more about kids than their parents. The parental movement has already begun with the fight for our children as it pertains to curriculum and the restrictions from the pandemic. It needs to evolve into a demand for their protection from firearms.
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In 2020, nearly three times more children died from firearms than cancer. Why aren’t our schools funded and protected with the same vigor airports, music venues and others are? Imagine if we had the same funding and motivation to reduce firearm death in kids as we do for cancer?
Congress is considering another round of COVID funding, much of which will be spent on vaccines, treatments and viral tests. What America really needs is to take action to reduce firearm violence among our youth. This is not a binary problem, but multifactorial. It is time to start prioritizing our kids after two years ago being stepped over.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM DR. NICOLE SAPHIER