The Problem: Our children and youth need help now. The COVID-19 pandemic might be affecting their mental health.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data indicated adolescents in the United States were already experiencing a mental health crisis. All indications are that the COVID-19 pandemic might have made this worse, particularly among youth most affected by school closures and social isolation, including low-income and racial and ethnic minority students.
The CovEx study shows that:
- Children receiving virtual only and combined school and their parents might be experiencing additional stressors that can increase risk for negative health outcomes.
- Virtual only instruction was more commonly reported by Black, Hispanic, and multi-racial parents than White parents. Culturally appropriate support programming and resources might be necessary to meet community needs, ensure fair access to services, and address health or educational inequities for families from racial and ethnic minority groups.
- Parents whose children attended school in person only were less likely to report issues with employment and childcare.
- Children receiving virtual only or combined instruction and their parents might need additional support to mitigate stress, including linkage to social and mental health services and opportunities to engage in safe physical activity to reduce risks associated with chronic health conditions.
Our nation’s youth continue to struggle with their mental health—of great concern is the increasing number of students reporting feeling sad and hopeless.
- During 2009–2019, CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found significant increases in the percent of US high school students who experienced persistent sadness or hopelessness, made a suicide plan, and attempted suicide
- More than 1 in 3 students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, representing a 40% increase since 2009 (26.1% to 36.7%)
- Poor mental health is associated with other health risks, both during adolescence and into adulthood, including risk for HIV and other STDs
- Young people who feel hopeless about their future are more likely to engage in behaviors that put them at risk of HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy
The Way Forward: Supporting young people, families, and schools as they recover from prior traumas and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial.
- Children receiving virtual or combined instruction and their parents might need additional support to ease stress, including linkage to social and mental health services and opportunities to engage in safe physical activity.
- Culturally appropriate support programming and resources may be necessary to meet community needs, ensure fair access to services, and address health or educational inequities for families from racial and ethnic minority groups.
- Support received in comprehensive school-based health programs, with a focus on education, services, and school environment, can help turn these trends around, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- School environments that are safe and supportive are successful at connecting children and youth to a network of caring peers and adults, including parents, other primary caregivers, and teachers.
- Students who feel someone at school cares about them have better academic, health, and behavioral outcome.
- Now more than ever we need faculty, staff, and counselors, in-school and virtually, providing and implementing safe and supportive environments strategies including:
- Trained mental health professionals to conduct screening and review results in a timely manner.
- Staff who can determine which students are in crisis and need immediate intervention.
- Partnerships with youth-friendly mental health services.
- Staff to integrate social-emotional learning in all K–12 schools and into health education programs.
- School policies that are not punitive and are equally enforced across the student body.
- Shared decision-making that engages students and their families.