Impacts of Pandemic Still Visible on Student Mental Health – The Durango Herald

Pediatricians, Durango 9-R School District providing emotional wellness services

The Colorado Healthy Kids Survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment shows that 37.9 percent of students in southwestern Colorado feel depressed. (file Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

An increase in requests for mental health information among Durango 9-R School District students and the wider community has led the Southwestern School District and pediatric partners to offer more resources to students and families in need.

Data released by Pediatric Partners of the Southwest shows that 15% to 20% of visits to student health centers in Durango are solely for mental health purposes.

In 2022, Colorado Children’s Hospital recorded a 23% increase over the previous year in the number of patients visiting the behavioral health department.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study that found 44% of teens reported feeling “sad and hopeless,” a 37% increase from before the COVID-19 pandemic. .

Suicide was the leading cause of death across the state for people aged 10 to 24 in 2020.

“I think COVID was a challenge because the kids didn’t go to school and that’s kind of their community,” said Cecile Fraley, CEO of Pediatric Partners of the Southwest.

Pediatric Partners of the Southwest works with Durango School District 9-R to provide an educational health center located at Durango High School. The center generally treats students within the school district, but also provides medical services to anyone between the ages of 1 and 21.

Pediatric Partners of the Southwest referred 74 patients to mental health support and counseling services during the first half of 2022.

School health centers are already offering services such as sports physical activity, basic laboratory tests and vaccinations. But Fraley would like to see mental health checks added to each visit. He said he would help medical professionals deal with mental health problems before they become more significant.

“Support them first, that’s really the goal for us,” he said.

Fraley said some students refer to school health center services, while others may be referred by a counselor or family member. In addition to the increase in mental health cases associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, she said there has been a general increase in mental health visits over the past 15 years.

Kim Caruso, a pediatrician with Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, said the impacts of COVID led to poor academic achievement and less structure in student lives, which put a strain on mental health.

It also forced students to spend more time online, which can negatively impact students’ mental health, he said, adding that how students connect through social media can also negatively impact mental health. of the students.

“The way people relate to each other has really changed dramatically,” Caruso said. “Whether it’s TikTok, YouTube video or Facebook post with a nice picture of the perfect vacation with the perfect family, it has set a super artificial and not quite achievable standard.”

He said it can lead to feelings of inadequacy, failure and fear of getting lost.

The Durango School District Behavioral Health Team is seeing similar mental health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have seen an increase in students accessing resources to support their mental health and have responded to this trend by increasing our services,” said Vanessa Giddings, executive director of student support services at 9-R.

The district has seven staff members who support the behavioral health team. The behavioral health team provides professional development to staff, along with direct and indirect services to students as needed. Each school campus also has a team of providers that includes a counselor, a social worker, a school psychologist, and behavioral interventionists.

Giddings said there are a number of reasons students across the nation might seek help for their mental health and that the focus should be on every student’s needs in order for them to be successful.

9-R has other socio-emotional support resources such as Safe2Tell, where students can anonymously report mental health issues they have regarding themselves or others. The district also provides a socio-emotional curriculum at all degrees that allows them to learn more about mental health.

“We have observed that the impacts of COVID include increased stress and anxiety for some of our students, just like what is nationally recognized,” Giddings said.

A Colorado Healthy Child Survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows that 37.9% of students aged 15-18 feel sad or hopeless in region 9, which includes La Counties. Plata, Archuleta, Dolores, Montezuma and San Juan.

The survey indicates that 17-year-old students were the most likely to report being depressed at 42.1%.

“We believe that socio-emotional health is like physical health. If you’re sick, it’s hard to learn, “9-R spokesperson Karla Sluis said.” Teaching about resilience and providing emotional support doesn’t subtract from basic learning, it adds to and enhances it. “

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