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This month the U.S. Department of Education published a study showing an unprecedented decline in the mental health of school children.  According to the study–entitled Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs–the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures used to combat it (e.g., school closures, social isolation, etc.) have resulted in a multitude of mental health problems among American kids.  Here are just some of the mental health issues that the study was able to quantify:

Emergency department visits related to mental health increased 24% for 5–11-year-olds and 31% for 12–17-year-olds between January and October 2020.

Between March and June of 2020, more than 25% of American parents reported that their child experienced declines in mental health and 14% reported increases in behavior problems.

In a survey conducted in April and May 2020, one in four youth (ages 13–19) reported an increase in sleep loss due to worry, feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain, and loss of confidence in themselves.

A CDC report found one quarter of respondents ages 18–24 had contemplated suicide in the 30 days prior to completing the survey.

The study goes on to give the following examples observed in Washington state schoolchildren:

Significant increases in youth with eating disorders, anxiety, mood disorders and depression with suicidal thoughts and self- harm behaviors (nearly twice the rate of adults over 40).

A significant number of previously stable youth have experienced new-onset or exacerbated eating disorders, depression, or anxiety, with some requiring increased use of medications, hospitalization, or other higher levels of care.

Children are experiencing a significant sense of isolation and loss, which is negatively impacting their learning and grades.

These issues, according to the study, require “urgent action.”

Despite such findings, the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) has shown no signs of relenting on its COVID-19 orders.

DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has extended the statewide mask mandate to at least November and has set a vaccination quota of 80% before schools may request relief from the mask requirement.  (This vaccination quota is a moot point in East Longmeadow where our health board has imposed a mask mandate on all schoolchildren regardless of vaccination status.) Additionally, Governor Baker has deployed National Guard troops to conduct routine nasal-squab, COVID-19 testing on children across the state.

Likewise, school administrators in Longmeadow have refused to yield on their social-distancing measures, despite growing concerns of student loneliness and isolation at lunchtime.  Currently all K-8 schoolchildren in Longmeadow must eat lunch at least six feet apart.  The school committee members voiced their concerns to superintendent Martin O’Shea at the last meeting.  He dismissed their concerns by stating

we did talk to officials that work for the Board of Health, our town nurse, the health director and our contact tracing coordinator and they all were in favor of us keeping that distance standard that we have at the K-8 level of six feet.

(The story was reported in the last edition of The Reminder.)

As the U.S. Department of Educations’ study shows, such measures will unquestionably have immediate and long-term negative effects on our children’s mental health, academic performance, and emotional development.