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KOLD INVESTIGATES: The pandemic’s toll on kids’ mental health

How much did this year really cost our kids?
Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 8:43 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The experts and educators agree: the social and emotional impacts on kids are even more profound - than losses in the classroom.

“The two areas I’m most concerned about are emotional well-being and social well-being. I think we’ll be able to make up the academics, I really do,” said Dr. Rebecca Hartzell, program director of the UA College of Education’s graduate program in applied behavior analysis. She is in the trenches for the pandemic’s attack on education, but that’s not the only reason she knows what she’s talking about. Hartzell is the mom of eight school-aged kids.

“You would think I would know what to do - and how to prepare my children - but yet, every day I would think, ‘this is not working,’” Hartzell said. “It’s like, my kids aren’t getting their homework done, I missed two meetings because I was troubleshooting a Zoom call... I am actually failing.”

Parents aren’t the only ones who feel that pressure. The loss of routine and socialization has left young people grasping for help.

Meanwhile, teachers not only have to make up lost ground but set new benchmarks. It’s especially difficult for children with individualized education programs, known as “IEPs,” that must now be rewritten.

“We had kids who were doing fine before the pandemic who now we have to worry about anxiety, we have to worry about mental difficulties, depression,” said Hartzell.

Some data is starting to come out on young people and mental health.

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble is a psychologist and author who focuses on young people. She told us there’s been a 31 percent increase in the number of young people going into an emergency room with psychiatric illness

“While I wouldn’t expect those numbers to last long term, I do expect there to be a spike,” said Breland-Noble, who is part a campaign called Sound it Out, which uses music to help middle schoolers express tough feelings.

Her message to parents: make it a habit to check in every day - but don’t pressure them. Many kids describe losing motivation. Getting it back will be a process. Let them know, you’re there to share the burden. When your kids do open up, try to listen and not badger them. Let them choose how much to share. And, as always, watch for changes like a drop in grades, sleeping more than usual, or feeling anxious Sunday night before the school week

“At this point, I think we all just want to do what’s best for the child need to press the pause button. We can’t worry about what’s happened this past year,” Said Breland-Noble.

“Think, ‘where’s this child at now, where does this child need to be, what can we do to get them there?’” added Hartzell.

School counselors will be a big part of charting that path. But, Arizona is known for its astronomical student-to-counselor ratio of 905-to-one: recently highest in the nation.

When Arizona Superintendent of Schools Kathy Hoffman recently announced 21 million dollars for school counselors and social workers, we asked her: Will it be enough to help this generation bounce back?

“I’m optimistic that our students are resilient and if we provide them with the help they need - we can help them they’ll have long-term success,” Hoffman told KOLD.

Need a place to start? Check out these parent and caregiver guides to conversations about emotional wellness.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.