Use of school mental health services increased just before the pandemic

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Newswise – Months after the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) declared a national child and mental health emergency, Emory University researchers have found that using the school’s mental health services had increased among major teenage groups in the year before COVID-19 struck compared to previous years in the United States. The study offers critical insights into the importance of school-based mental health services in alleviating the growing youth mental health crisis.

In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the research team – a collaboration between Emory and Harvard University – saw the use of school mental health services jump nearly 14% among students in 2019, the year after the shooting in a 2018 school in Parkland, Florida. The uptick in use was most pronounced among non-Hispanic black teens and teens from low-income families.

Using a national database to examine trends in mental health over a decade (2009-2019), researchers sampled more than 170,000 teens (12-17 years old) who participated in the national survey and found a marked increase in the use of school mental health services. in 2019.

Janet Cummings, lead author of the study and associate professor of health policy and management at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, says the odds of receiving a school mental health service were higher in 2019 than at any time. other time during the study period. She also notes that the results highlight the need for such services, especially now.

“Given that less than half of young people with a mental health disorder receive services, an increase in the use of school mental health services likely means that more children who need help are connected to care,” says Cummings.

The researchers found that this increase was concentrated in the use of school mental health services compared to mental health services in other settings. There was no corresponding year-over-year increase (2018 to 2019) in the use of non-school mental health services.

Main author Adam Wilck, Cummings’ colleague at Rollins, observed that these increases may have been aided by school-based mental health programs that were created or expanded in the 18 months following the school shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida. . “These improvements came at a time when the national discourse was intensifying and focusing on school mental health,” says Wilk. “As a next step, it will be important to understand how mental health programs and services implemented during the COVID-19 era and beyond have affected access to needed mental health care and mental health outcomes. mental health.”

Cummings and Wilk also wrote a comment in the same newspaper a month ago encouraging state lawmakers and educators to consider incentivizing or requiring schools to provide proven models of mental health services in a sustainable way. In this commentary, the researchers outlined five action items for policymakers, educators, health care providers, and families to support children’s mental health.

Recommendations include creating mental health plans at the school district level, training educators in mental health literacy, and implementing a social and emotional program that has been shown to improve emotional skills, behavior and school performance.

In October 2021, the AAP joined two other healthcare professional organizations to declare a national child and youth mental health emergencyclaiming that the pandemic was worsening an already existing crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that emergency room visits for mental health emergencies increased by 31% for children aged 12 to 17 between March and October 2020. In addition, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts increased by almost 51% among older girls from 12 to 17 at the beginning of 2021 compared to the same period. in 2019.

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