This has been only partially true.
Throughout 2021, it has become evident that COVID-19 is here to stay. Public health recommendations will continue to adjust as the virus changes and as it becomes more endemic. We may have been a bit too optimistic early on in our ability to race against the evolution of a virus. History should have taught us otherwise, given what we know of past pandemics.
We have seen some semblance of normalcy over the last year. We no longer have stay-at-home orders in place, nor requirements of gathering size, and we can celebrate holidays with family and friends while minimizing the risk of transmission. Since the start of the 2021-’22 school year, our children have had the opportunity to resume full-time, in-person learning.
We have come a long way from the darker days in 2020, yet, we are still in the thick of battling COVID-19. From a public health perspective, we continue to be concerned about this disease burden, as well as the secondary impacts of the pandemic.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other health care professional associations recently declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, citing that the stress of the pandemic has exacerbated an already-dire situation. This is especially true among communities already experiencing poor health outcomes. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, research indicates that depression and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic among adolescents, with 25% of youth now experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms.
In school districts across St. Louis County, students who have felt that adults in their school, community, or home environment care about them have been two to three and a half times less likely to experience depression symptoms, according to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey. These resiliency factors have shown to be protective against poor mental health in pre-pandemic times, and we have no reason to believe the same is not true now.
Earlier this year, the St. Louis County Board approved the use of over $5 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to assist school districts in strengthening outreach efforts to kids at risk of disengaging or dropping out of school. With these funds, 37 mentor positions are serving approximately 1,000 students across the county. In addition, the board approved a public health position focusing on community-based suicide-prevention initiatives.
Encouragingly, 85% of 2019 Minnesota Student Survey respondents reported at least five protective factors that could help boost their resiliency. Along with having a caring adult in their lives, these protective factors include participating in social activities, feeling safe in their neighborhood, and having a positive identity.
Could 2022 be the year we restitch our fraying social cohesion for purposes of supporting our children’s mental health and resiliency? The pandemic has revealed differences in how we approach our individual health behaviors and preferences for community health strategies. I’m optimistic that in 2022 we can move past highlighting our differences and come together to focus on the mental well-being and resiliency of our children and community.
The COVID-19 virus is here to stay, in one form or another. An emergency in children’s mental health does not have to stay with it. Let’s all vow to collectively protect our children from these …….