BREA, Calif. - As students return to classrooms without masks and the need to physically distance themselves, there are still lasting effects for millions of kids who are trying to move past the coronavirus pandemic.
"There are definitely students that we are finding with more intensive social, emotional, and behavioral needs," Rachel Miller, a school psychologist with the Brea Olinda Unified School District explained.
As student mental health issues skyrocket, more districts are adding resources to help kids and parents adjust. At Brea Olinda, the district is bringing in more counselors, and psychologists, and adding online programs for students to use.
A PEW Research analysis estimates that mental health difficulties in kids likely doubled during the pandemic. It’s a statistic that local school districts are noticing in the classroom.
"We're definitely seeing many more students that have characteristics of anxiety and depression and to such a level where we're seeing many more hospitalizations," Miller added.
Miller said isolation and social media are playing major roles in decreased mental health. When students were isolated during the pandemic, they started spending more time online. And now that they’re back in the classroom – many are experiencing what experts call "COVID regression."
"I think we're starting to see some students that are withdrawing and isolating themselves more because they don't know how to interact or behave appropriately," Miller said."They don't even know or are having difficulty just sitting in a chair. You know, we're sitting in one place for extended periods of time and they don't know how to get the attention of their teacher or how to interact or, you know, within a group setting."
It’s a problem that’s forcing schools to re-think the way they address mental health. Now, many districts are adding additional resources for schools and parents. At Brea Olinda– counselors are onsite at each school to help kids adjust and make sure they know they’re not alone.
"The great thing about doing the social-emotional lessons every month is that we're able to go inside the classrooms and let them know that it's okay if you're feeling stressed out and your feelings are valid," district counselor Erika Rodriguez said. "We're humans. I feel anxious too, sometimes. And when they hear that, and I give examples and I go into the lessons, they feel heard and validated."
The district is also adding an online wellness center where students can find support and resources for mental health. District officials say while it’s a troubling problem, they’re happy that it is opening the door to destigmatizing mental health.
In addition to getting help at school, experts say it’s also important that parents recognize the signs of mental health issues at home. And while it may not always be easy, Miller says there are specific signs to look for.