As school resumes this fall, educators are surveying every child, teaching more coping skills, and enlisting an army of counselors to address their students’ mental health. And yet, many already know all this will probably not be enough. Many students may be traumatized by the disruptions and losses of the past year and a half, battling anxiety after being out of school for so long, worried about COVID-19 and the risk of exposure.
A record number of youths suffered crises during the pandemic, with Boston Children’s Hospital seeing more children with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders — and a 40 percent increase last summer in admissions for suicidal thoughts and attempts. Yet even before the pandemic, the educational system was not prepared for the mental health needs of young students. One analysis from 2020 showed Massachusetts schools had only half the number of social workers that they needed, with psychologists and counselors also in short supply. “The needs are higher than they’ve ever been and we didn’t have enough before,” said Ashley NigglAguiar, president of the Massachusetts School Psychologists Association. “Mental health is a prerequisite for learning.”
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