The MLO Minute: By Allyson McAndrews, M.Ed., Director of Marketing and Community Outreach —
The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted the lives of individuals everywhere and has had an adverse effect on the mental health of many people. Children and teens have been particularly affected by the drastic changes that have occurred over the past year. Last March, just as we were coming out of the dark of winter, spring seemed right around the corner. For kids, this meant more sunlight and outdoor time, spring sports and extracurricular activities, with longer days to enjoy friends and family. Summer was only a few months away and children looked forward to summer camps, graduation parties, and 4th of July celebrations. Little did we know that the pandemic would cancel nearly everything.
The serious changes in our daily lives seemed to happen overnight, leaving kids anxious and overwhelmed. The pandemic stripped students of their normal routines. At a time when they should be finishing their school year strong and flourishing in spring activities, they were confined to their homes and required to learn virtually. This helped to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19, yet was very tough on the mental health of all types of young learners. Students with disabilities were especially susceptible to being negatively impacted by the change in their regular academic routines, as students in special education programs often thrive when they have a clear academic plan and daily procedure in place. As a result, many students have not progressed academically and emotionally because of the radical day-to-day adjustments.
The need for mental health services has greatly increased this past year. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that “the proportion of mental health–related ED (Emergency Departments) visits increased sharply beginning in mid-March 2020 (week 12) and continued into October 2020 (week 42) with increases of 24% among children aged 5–11 years and 31% among adolescents aged 12–17 years, compared with the same period in 2019.” This increase in mental health-related ED visits by children and teens during the pandemic emphasizes the need for more affordable and readily available mental healthcare services, and stress the importance of more open conversations with our children regarding their mental health, and to inform them that they are not alone in their feelings.
There are several signs that a child’s mental health is at risk, including excessive worrying, feelings of sadness, and changes in sleep and eating patterns. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has published a detailed list of signs and symptoms that can be accessed by clicking here. It is critical to reach out to your school if you are concerned about your child’s mental health. Whether your student is learning virtually, in-person or in a hybrid setting, it is important to recognize that students with a mental health condition are usually eligible for a proper Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a Section 504 Service Plan. IEPs and Service Plans can and should be revised during these trying times to ensure that students receive the necessary services to allow them to achieve academic, social, behavioral, and emotional success, regardless of their educational setting.
As we cross the one-year mark of the COVID-19 shutdown, mental health should be one of our leading discussions. While many advocates, healthcare professionals, and organizations have made important strides to increase awareness surrounding mental illness, we all need to make mental health discussions a priority in our homes and communities. Our firm has a comprehensive resource page on our website with useful COVID-19 links and articles which can be accessed by clicking here. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our office for guidance regarding special education and related mental health issues. Our initial special education consultations are free, and the great majority of these cases are handled without charge to parents. Please feel free to contact our office if you believe your child is not receiving appropriate educational services.
Below is a list of references and some useful advocacy groups and organizations that are available to you during these trying times.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Know as the “CDC”, this organization works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, due to human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI — The nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
McAndrews Law’s COVID-19 Resources, Links and Articles Page – A compilation of COVID-19 resources and articles related to our practice areas written by MLO attorneys and staff, as well as outside organizations.
Daemion Counseling Center — A community based mental health center that has continuously served clients ages 14 and up in Southeastern Pennsylvania since 1970. From their website: “With levels of anxiety and concern rising daily due to Coronavirus COVID-19, it feels more important than ever to fulfill our nonprofit mission of providing affordable mental health counseling.”
Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged <18 Years During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 1–October 17, 2020 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6945a3.htm?s_cid=mm6945a3_w
By Allyson McAndrews, M.Ed., Director of Marketing and Community Outreach