Suffer the children

Experts cite a mental health crisis for our kids

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 6/15/22

REGION — “Some kids can’t get out of the despair they sank into during the pandemic,” said Akilah Sutphin. “We’re seeing it in their behavior in …

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Suffer the children

Experts cite a mental health crisis for our kids

Posted

REGION — “Some kids can’t get out of the despair they sank into during the pandemic,” said Akilah Sutphin. “We’re seeing it in their behavior in school.”

Her voice is laced with deep concern. Sutphin, the program manager for children and family services at Action Toward Independence (ATI), is getting referrals regularly for children coping with the ongoing trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ATI provides an outlet for kids with disabilities. It’s a chance to spend safe time with their peers, to talk about their problems and learn how to cope with their emotions, she said.

“We wanted to connect the community, but also to raise awareness,” said Sutphin. “There are a lot of residual, emotional areas that need to be addressed.”

What are the problems she’s seeing?

Kids need to feel safe again. They need to “connect with their friends after being isolated.” Some are upset that they missed the graduation or prom they were expecting, things that people sometimes take for granted.

Students returning to school are struggling, feeling behind academically.

“Some kids have shut down,” Sutphin said.

It’s no wonder.  

“Children have lost loved ones. There was a lot of uncertainty, loss and trauma.”

Domestic abuse increased during the pandemic. Economics professor Jillian Carr reported at theconversation.com that 911 calls for help increased, but official reports and arrests decreased. She cited strained social services and  pandemic-related changes to third-party reporting.

That includes teachers. Closed schools meant that teachers—mandated reporters—weren’t able to keep an eye on their charges, Sutphin said. Abuse “went on while people were locked down.”

And during the pandemic, victims had fewer resources for escape, Carr wrote.

All that adds up to ongoing trauma that particularly impacted kids.

“It’s terrible to think about,” Sutphin said. “Kids going through that abuse and can’t get help.”

And there were hunger issues too. In Sullivan County, like other counties, “breakfast and lunch at school may be the main or only meals that some children get,” she said.

Schools made sure food was available, with bagged breakfasts and lunches. But not everyone could get to the buildings, Sutphin said, and there was no way to ensure the kids actually got to eat the food.

But once kids were back, surely things improved?

For some children, certainly. For others, overcoming the emotional effect of the pandemic is taking longer.

Black and Latinx children are having a tougher time, because their access to healthcare is limited to start with.

And during the pandemic, agencies closed for the duration or services were limited, making the situation worse.

“There was substantially lower access to treatment,” Sutphin said. “Being able to get help was harder.”

The CDC has found that only about 20 percent of children with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders received care from a specialized mental health care provider. Few providers, costs, lack of insurance and distance to travel to care all factor in.

“Fortunately, ATI was one of the few organizations in the county that remained open throughout the pandemic,” Sutphin said, “to offer support and services to the community as much as possible.”

What can help?

If a child needs more help “enlisting the services of a therapist or psychologist would be beneficial,” she said. So would re-establishing social skills and life skills that may have gone unpracticed while school was closed. ATI, Sutphin said, offers a social skills and life skills group for grades K-12 and for young adults to age 31.

Agencies need to keep working together, to communicate and refer.

People “need to be aware of what’s happening with our children,” she said. Schools stay on top of it, but more people are needed. Neighbors. Everyone.

And the families shouldn’t be forgotten. “We need to make sure parents have the support they need.”

Sutphin paused. “Let’s [as a community] dig in deeper.” And make sure that everyone has the help they need.

pandemic, education, Action Toward Independence, trauma, COVID-19

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