Experts notice increase in students suffering from mental health crises

PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) – The start of the 2020-2021 school year is unprecedented. Instead of…

Experts notice increase in students suffering from mental health crises

PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) – The start of the 2020-2021 school year is unprecedented. Instead of children returning to the classroom this fall, in Oregon students are returning virtually. Some parents are concerned that this will not only hurt their children academically, they believe it also will hurt them mentally. 

“Every day, I hear of another child who has just experienced so much withdrawal and just depression and isolation. You think about it, six months of not being around these kids that you are seeing every day, even if you aren’t in their friend group or close peer group, just seeing other people and being near others does so much for the human body,” said Shalyse Olson, a parent of four students. She saw some side effects of the isolation with her older two children. 

“We would find our older two daughters would just be in their room all day. We had to really make an effort to be like, ‘Guys, you need to come out’ just come to the family room,” Olson said. “They’re like, ‘We’re fine,’ but even if they may not realize it, they can go downhill real fast.”

Experts say isolation from virtual learning is a real concern. 

“The long-term impact of social isolation that kids are feeling right now is going to play out for years. I don’t think we really fully appreciate and understand what that is going to look like,” said Dr. Robin Henderson of Providence Medical Group. “We have seen an increase in kids showing up in our emergency department in mental health crisis. We know what this is related to, and all I can really want to encourage folks to do is reach out and get help early.”

Dr. Henderson says some warning signs could include children not showing interest in activities they typically enjoy. 

“If you suspect that your child is developing depression or anxiety and they’re beginning to lose interest in the activities that they would normally engage in, or beginning to develop anxiety about unrealistic fears about going outside and going places, things like that, that’s a really great time to reach out to pediatrician or family provider and schedule a virtual visit,” Dr. Henderson said. 

Before it gets to that point, she suggests finding ways for students to connect with people in a small and safe setting that all parents are comfortable with. 

“Finding that bubble of kids that you’re close to that you know their families, you know they’re protecting and social distancing, the things they need to do and finding a way to socialize so your child has a few friends that are within their bubble,” Dr. Henderson said. “The pod idea of learning and finding yourself a group of people that you can do that with is one really good recommendation.” 

Physical activity is also suggested. Ideally in a small group but even just getting outside with family can be helpful. 

“Remember to keep it to a schedule as best you can with a lot of grace involved,” said Dr. Henderson. “Our kids are going to have meltdowns just like we have meltdowns. Some days being in front of that screen all day long is probably going to be too much, so find a way to give your kids some grace to be able to struggle with this emotionally. Remember that they’re not getting the usual outlets that they normally get.”

If you are concerned about your child, or notice any different behavior, reach out to your doctor or a health professional for advice.