When the Rep. Grace NapolitanoGraciela (Grace) Flores Napolitano A law hindering treatment of serious mental illness must be repealed Trump signs bill to allow memorial to fallen journalists We cannot ignore the impact of COVID-19 on youth mental health MORE (D-Calf.) Introduced the Student Mental Health Services Act in February 2019, even she could not have imagined how important this bill would be today. Having recently passed the House, it is now up to the Senate to lead by example and support the youth of our country, a demographic group that has been particularly affected by COVID-19.
Young Americans are increasingly battling COVID-19 while experiencing social isolation, loss of connections, loneliness and mental illness in record numbers. A recent national survey found that more than half of college and high school students worry about their own mental health as a result of the pandemic. Of grave concern, a quarter (approximately) are aware of someone who has exhibited suicidal thoughts since the onset of COVID-19. Five percent said they had tried it themselves.
The same study found that less than half felt their school offered significant resources to address these issues. These numbers should scare us all because if young people are the future, they must have access to the support they need to manage their mental health in this challenging environment.
The impact of mental health on students was already high even before the start of the pandemic. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a in five children reported having a mental health disorder almost a year ago. And from 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34. At the secondary and lower level, the long-term effects of social isolation and distance learning due to COVID-19 are not yet known. Investigation suggested that the mental health impacts of blockages could persist for up to nine years.
Many university students today live in a state of heightened anxiety. Some students have returned to school and have not followed COVID-19 protocols and were soon sent home the following peaks in cases. Others who attend schools that keep strict “zero tolerance“COVID-19 rules of conduct can end up confined to their rooms, living in perpetual fear of being ‘written up’, potentially suspended, or even evicted for the slightest breach of the rules.
Like a the college warned its students, “Hold each other accountable. Don’t be selfish.… Don’t be the person who is shutting us down this semester. Don’t be the reason that values [university] employees are made redundant or lose their jobs. Do not test this university’s resolve to take quick action to prioritize the health and well-being of our campus…. Messages like this only amplify the anxiety and stress that college kids are already feeling.
Igor Chirikov, with the Student experience in the University Research Consortium, noted that colleges should expect a slight increase in mental health cases and plan accordingly. “As the pandemic continues,” he said, “universities must be prepared for a wave of student demands for mental health services in the fall and beyond. … Current plans to continue education with distance or hybrid education will not be effective without adequate resources for mental health support programs.
This is precisely why the representative of Napolitano invoice is so important. It will provide $ 130 million in competitive grants and help schools develop programs to meet the needs of their students. Creating programs that help young people manage stress and build resilience is critical to the current and future health of students nationwide. Identifying the early signs of mental illness can help ensure access to appropriate treatment.
“We continue to see how overwhelming and emotional fear and anxiety about the coronavirus can be in our constituents, especially children, as the public health crisis rages on,” said representative Napolitano. “Together, we must continue to increase mental health awareness, reduce harmful stigma, and connect our future leaders to life-saving care.”
She’s right. Increasing access to youth-friendly services and removing the stigma surrounding mental health will give the students who benefit most from these resources the confidence to seek them out.
We must pay attention to the silent impact of COVID-19 on young Americans. This epidemic is affecting our leaders of tomorrow in their most impressionable and formidable years of life.
Young people are often uncomfortable asking for help. That is why we must do our part to make the resources of Representative Napolitano’s bill available to them so that they can access the help they need before it is too late.
Lyndon Haviland, DrPH, MPH, is a Distinguished Fellow of the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy.