An alarming increase in child mental health issues coincided with the Michigan government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) took a hardline approach to the pandemic, ordering businesses and schools closed. Students as young as six were required to learn from home in front of a screen for hours, isolated from their peers. It was later revealed the American Federation of Teachers — a leading school employees union — influenced CDC guidelines to delay the reopening of schools, likely in the interest of dues-paying adults.
Only now is the impact of those policies becoming apparent.
Pine Rest Christian Mental Services in western Michigan said it was unable to keep up with demand and had to turn patients away.
Facilities saw a 13 percent increase in pediatric inpatient care and “its 62 beds for children and teens have been at or close to capacity since September of last year,” WOOD-TV reported.
“Compared to the year prior to the pandemic, Pine Rest has seen a 44% increase in pediatric ‘turnaways,’ situations in which our child and adolescent services were at capacity, and we had to work with parents or guardians to find care elsewhere,” Mark Eastburg, Pine Rest’s president and CEO, said.
“Other organizations have reported very similar trends, and there have been a number of recent stories from around the state in which parents spend days, even weeks, trying to find appropriate placement for their children,” he said.
“It’s, frankly, heartbreaking.”
According to the University of Michigan Health Lab, an “alarming 23 percent” of Detroit Public Schools Community District students “had seriously considered attempting suicide within the past year.” More than half “had experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression.”
In November 2020, Chalkbeat interviewed several Detroit students about their struggles with in-person learning being banned.
“It’s a battle with yourself,” 17-year-old Elizabeth Okunawo said. “When you daydream, there’s nothing happy about it.”
The experience of East English Village Preparatory Academy senior Jeremiah Campbell:
The charger for his district tablet broke, and it was frustrating to get it replaced. He missed several assignments. It was hard for him to muster the motivation needed to sit for long hours in front of the screen. In some classes, other students rarely spoke, dampening his once-held enthusiasm for learning.
“Some days, I don’t even want to go to school,” he said.
“What is even more concerning is the instances we are unaware of because students are not engaging,” district spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson told Chalkbeat.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded: “the pandemic has left teens with stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.”
Some of its findings:
Well over 50% reported that the pandemic and response has created problems. A little more than 25% of students said they had experienced a “great deal” and 30% a “moderate amount” of changes, as well as stress and problems. A subset reported a “great deal” or “moderate” increase in depression [19% and 17%, respectively]. We saw very large numbers report having changes in sleep and eating patterns.
“School systems and other youth-serving sectors should be prepared to address these challenges,” the school said.