This Year’s National Mental Health Awareness Month is Especially Important

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and while mental health is at the core of our work with our students – and has been since we opened our doors back in 1985 – as we’ve all seen following the pandemic, it’s as formidable a concern as ever.

We’ve all seen the statistics and media reports detailing the severe impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental health – and kids have often been impacted the worst. Between the loss of loved ones, the lack of social interaction, and the inconsistencies they’ve experienced in their education systems, the results have ranged from fear and frustration to anger and apathy.

In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six children between the ages of 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder each year. This figure is even higher for children living in poverty.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) lists the most common mental illnesses among kids:

  • ADHD: 9.8% (approximately 6.0 million)2
  • Anxiety: 9.4% (approximately 5.8 million)2
  • Behavior problems: 8.9% (approximately 5.5 million)2
  • Depression: 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million)2

Sadly, these data are all pre-pandemic. Research is ongoing regarding its full effects on our kids’ mental health, but early indicators show they’ve experienced more anxiety and depression in particular. Isolation, loneliness, a lack of physical activity, family stress and racial tensions have all added to the strains of child and adolescent mental health.

Mental health is a broad concept. It comprises our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and behave. It influences our ability to handle stress, relate to others and make good decisions. While they’re often used interchangeably, the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not have a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience healthy periods of physical, mental and social well-being.

If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that it has cast a greater light on many signs of poor mental health. It’s also removed many of the stigmas associated with it, allowing it to become a more comfortable topic of conversation at home, in school and among social circles.

We’ve also seen legislation change for the better and new sources of funding to help children and adults receive the support they need. In 2020, for example, 9-8-8 was designated as the universal phone number for the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, set to launch this summer. In 2021, the National Science Foundation began awarding grants to universities to support suicide research, prevention and treatment.

Still, as we approach one million deaths in the U.S. alone related to COVID-19, nearly all of us have known someone who has been taken or severely impacted by this plague – and for our vulnerable children, it can be too much to process, at times.

Therefore, please take this month to really study the behaviors and emotions of the children in your lives. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, principal or school counselor – take that extra moment to ask yourself, is this child at risk? How can we work together to support them? Let’s make sure that child’s educational setting is meeting their needs. If you feel as if a child could benefit from specialized care for students with mental health, emotional and behavioral disabilities, reach out to us to learn more. We’re fortunate to play the role we do in so many children’s lives – and we’re happy to help you evaluate your situation and offer your kids the best chance for success.