The Importance of Addressing Mental Health

Increased awareness of student mental health and proactive interventions in school became a silver lining of the pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder and only about 20 percent get the help they need. The pandemic added a new layer of issues caused by isolation and anxiety around health. Beechwood Independent Schools Superintendent Mike Stacy says the pandemic has highlighted both kids’ and adults’ social and emotional needs.

Illustration by Emi Villavicencio

“Everyone I’ve been in contact with has had a difficult 12 months,” he says. “The schools just really aren’t designed by traditional staffing formulas to be able to do the amount of catch-up work that’s going to be needed over the next 12 to 18 months. We’ll still have a residual effect from this.”

Despite the negatives, a few area schools are implementing initiatives to help improve students’ mental health now and in the future, including these three programs.

EXTENDED LUNCH HOUR

With less in-person interaction, Purcell Marian High School extended its lunch hour by 15 minutes to allow kids to socialize. “I think the biggest loss in the quarantine was not being together and seeing your classmates on a daily basis,” says Purcell Marian math teacher Kyle Nobbe. “And when we started back in fall 2020, those interactions with students were harder to come by just organically. By creating this additional 15 minutes, students could just enjoy being in each other’s presence again. I think that had a lot to do with addressing mental health in a proactive sort of way.”

ADDITIONS TO COUNSELING STAFF

Beechwood Independent Schools added to its medical staff nearly overnight to be able to handle COVID testing, with plans to add to the district’s counseling staff next school year. “I think the social-emotional aspect of COVID will be a much, much bigger issue for kids than the physical issues of COVID,” says Stacy. “I don’t think that can be overstated.”

EXTENDING SERVICES THROUGH THE SUMMER

St. Bernard-Elmwood Place City Schools Superintendent Mimi Webb says the district is addressing the governor’s recommendation for extended services. “We recognize that this summer is going to be a challenge,” she says. “We’re still working to refine that and increase services for students and families who might need it.” The district established a partnership with Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services pre-pandemic, and that work is expected to continue. Webb says she anticipates an increase in anxiety for some students and staff returning to school and hopes the partnership will help ease everyone back to a normal routine.

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