By Mark Powell
#School closures were intended to keep students safe during the #COVID-19 #pandemic, but for many #students this has ushered in a different set of dangers: #anxiety, #depression and other serious #mentalhealthconditions that negatively affect students and their families.
The data speaks for itself: there have been no reported #COVID-19 related deaths in #children and young adults under the age of 19 in San Diego County. However, there have been several deaths in this age group by #suicide, drug overdose and #domesticviolence.
While #suicide is the tenth overall leading cause of death in the #UnitedStates, it is the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12 to 17. That is why substantial funding for counseling and #mentalhealthservices must be in place if our schools remain shuttered and our #children continue to be isolated and forced to learn remotely during the 2020-2021 #school year.
The decision to keep schools closed in San Diego County was based on spikes in the number of #coronavirus cases. The surge in #COVID cases resulted in San Diego County being placed on California’s #coronavirus watch list, and, until the county is removed from the watch list, public and private #schools will not be allowed to hold in-class instruction. Under this new mandate it is unlikely that San Diego #school districts will be able to have in-school classroom instruction at the start of the upcoming #school year.
It seems that the primary goal of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate to shutter in-class instruction was to keep #students healthy and prevent the spread of #coronavirus among #students, #teachers and other adults. However, the mandate failed to adequately address or prepare for negative effects the #school closures would have on our children’s #mentalhealth.
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
#School closures affect families beyond a disruption in their child’s education. There is evidence that #school closures will impact #mentalhealthservices, and #mentalhealthissues may increase among #students due to fewer opportunities to engage with peers. As #schools remain closed, #students do not have the same access to key #mentalhealthservices, nor do they have teachers and counselors monitoring them for #mentalhealth or abuse issues, and existing #mentalhealthproblems among #children and adolescents may be exacerbated.
Understanding that there is a nationwide #suicide crisis, the #FederalCommunicationsCommission recently voted unanimously to finalize 988 as the number students could call to reach the 24/7 #NationalSuicidePreventionLifelinehotline. As of now, #students in suicidal crisis can reach that hotline by dialing 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)—but that number may be too hard for students to remember. However, use of 988 won’t start until July 16, 2022, so we must look at other ways to communicate this information to #students during the #pandemic.
Addressing student #mentalhealthissues must become a priority, and this can only be accomplished with proper funding and sufficient personnel. In San Diego County, the ratio of students to counselors is 686 to 1. For psychologists it’s 887 to 1, and for #socialworkers it’s a staggering 7,285 to 1. Though we abound in other resources to help students, not enough money has been allocated to hire and utilize these much needed #mentalhealthprofessionals throughout the school district.
If students are limited in their access to #mentalhealthservices due to a countywide school closure, then we need to provide them and their families with the resources they need to access #mentalhealthservice on their own and to recognize the warning signs of #suicide. The data is conclusive: more students are dying from #mentalhealthissues than from #COVID-19.
If #mentalhealthsupport resources are not made widely available to #students through online technology, then parents should be given the choice to allow their #children to return to on-campus instruction or continue their education through distance learning. All things considered, a student’s #mentalhealth should be given the same priority as their physical health.
Mark Powell is a member of the San Diego County Board of Education. He has been a teacher, vice principal and dean of students at San Diego Unified School District. He is an adjunct professor at National University’s Sanford College of Education.