‘The magnitude of the need has grown’: Central Valley Schools provide students more mental health resources during the pandemic

SPOKANE, Wash. — The pandemic has been hard for everyone, but especially for children. 

A study from the Journal of American Medicine shows depression and anxiety symptoms have double compared to pre-pandemic times. It also showed girls and teens are more likely to feel depressed and anxious.

Emergency departments are also seeing the trend. There has been an uptick in children coming in needing behavioral health help. The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention said there was a 31-percent increase in emergency departments in 2020 compared to 2019.

The Central Valley School District is preparing for the first day of school and in doing so, has increased resources for mental health help. 

The district previously had three full-time mental health therapists and one person who worked part-time. After seeing the need, they have hired five more people to work full-time. These professionals are contracted with Frontier Behavioral Health, Children’s Home Society and Spokane Public Schools.

Pat Shelley, the head counselor for University High School, said she saw an uptick in parents and students calling in asking for mental health help. She heard the struggles students went through with online and hybrid learning in the last year and a half.

“As our students begin to come back, we realized they had experienced a lot of trauma due to isolation and just not being able to be at school,” said Terrie VanderWegen, the associate superintendent of equity and whole child initiatives for the district.

The mental health clinicians will be spread out around schools, but will mainly be at the high schools.

“We found that in the middle schools and high schools, kids came back later than the elementary. Those are the areas we really want to hone – to focus on,” said Cindy Sothen, the director of learning recovery for the district.

Focusing on school is important, but it may be tough for kids to do if they’re not feeling well emotionally.

“The main thing is: you’re not alone in this. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s no shame in reaching out for help,” said Shelley.

School counselors are available for kids to talk to, but if students need even more help, counselors will call parents and help families get set up with a mental health clinician.

“We have an abundant amount of resources this year and we want to make sure that students at all levels, should they need it, have access to it,” Sothen said. “With that open communication with families and school staff, we can meet those needs, hopefully… We will work towards helping those students or that student be successful.”

If you or your child need help and are outside of the CVSD, there are still resources available to you. 

Anyone can dial 988 or 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Lifeline. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can be contacted at 1-800-662-4357. 

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