One more COVID-19 delay is the state’s release of survey results of our middle and high school kids. Called the SHARP (Student Health and Risk Prevention) survey, results were supposed to be released last month, but are a bit behind schedule. Everyone is wondering how months of school disruptions, with home-based and online schooling, has impacted our youth. And SHARP results will help tell that story.
A UNICEF report found higher rates of anxiety and depression in youth from nine countries surveyed following COVID, with 50% feeling less motivated to do normal activities. While the state health department is great at advising parents on how to keep their kids physically safe, recommending COVID-19 vaccinations and safety protocols, parents can still be left wondering about how to keep their kids mentally and emotionally safe during a period of upheaval.
A report on 2020 data from the state health department showed that among adults indicators of mental health remained stable. Emergency room visits, reports of suicidal ideation, overdose deaths, and suicide deaths did not vary from levels of prior years. That is good news. But for youth, national indicators tell a different story. Nationally, there was a 25-30% increase in mental health related emergency visits for youth aged 5-17. Higher rates of suicidal ideation in youth corresponded with times when COVID-19 stressors were highest. And about 50% of parents surveyed said that at least one of their children’s mental health needs worsened during the pandemic.
And there are some signs of increased stress in Utah as well. A new report from University of Utah’s Ken C. Gardner Policy Institute found that COVID-19 might be leading to an increase in adverse childhood events (ACEs). Some Utah data is reporting higher levels of domestic violence, substance use, and mental health concerns in the home. ACEs increase for children living in these circumstances.
What can parents do? Mental health screening is a great first step.
While the data from the SHARP survey will be out soon, parents can begin taking steps now to help their youth manage the ongoing challenges of changing environments. Checking in with counselors in the school system is a good first step if parents are worried about mental health having an impact on school performance. The Tooele County School District offers a free mental health screening for all youth. New screening dates are coming up the week of Oct. 20. TCSD also operates a youth and family resource center.
Mental health training and resilience building are ways to make a difference.
USU-Extension, the Tooele Communities that Care, and the health department prevention services are entities that can also help. Suicide prevention gatekeeper trainings, such as Question, Persuade, Refer and Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings are available, along with parenting classes that can teach resilience skills to make kids more resistant to the stressors. Community members can contact these agencies to sign up for trainings or schedule to host a training. USU-Extension 4-H programming or Boys and Girls Clubs are other great places to teach kids resiliency skills.
Just as soon as the SHARP data is released, we will offer a community update on how Tooele kids have fared during the pandemic. Until then, be safe and be proactive. Let’s create resilient kids and help them manage anything life throws their way.
Maren Wright Voss, ScD, is a professional practice extension assistant professor of health and wellness at the USU Extension – Tooele County Office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2409 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.