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Back to School & Youth Mental Health

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Returning to the classroom can be a challenging time for people of all ages, including young adults going off to college. It is normal for students to feel a full range of emotions about going back to school, from anxiety to excitement. To set them up for success, parents, caregivers, and educators can encourage youth to talk about how they are feeling—and create safe spaces to do so. 

Aside from the basics (getting back into a routine, meeting with teachers to discuss individual needs, and creating areas to complete homework), there is more we can do to support youth during this time, including normalizing access to mental health support before a crisis hits. 

Seasonal Spikes in Youth Self-Harm & Destigmatizing Mental Health Support

New research shows that from 2016 to 2021, hospitalizations and emergency department visits for mental health issues among kids and teens peaked in April (15% higher) and October (24% higher). Researchers noted a “clear pattern” that correlates with the school year. Interestingly, when schools closed in 2020 due to Covid, a decline in these visits occurred during months where suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts tend to peak.

As schools re-open, the American Psychological Association recommends talking to youth and providing meaningful mental health and suicide prevention support including:

  • Listening to their concerns
  • Spending quality time with them
  • Prioritizing safety and expressing love for them

Most of the time, mental health problems are invisible to the outside world—and that means those who are struggling often struggle alone. By shining a much-needed light on mental wellness, we can dispel the myths, learn the facts, and initiate potentially life-saving conversations. With 50% of people in the United States likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetimes, there are many protective factors that can support strong mental health. These include a healthy diet, good relationships with family and peers, and emotional self-regulation. 

Mental Health Risk Factors & Warning Signs

In the U.S., suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents, with hospitalizations and emergency department visits for mental health issues among young girls outpacing those by boys. Some of the most common risk factors of self-harm include:

  • Alcohol and substance use
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Previous suicide attempts

Feeling unsafe at school—physically, mentally, and/or emotionally—is a serious concern among students, educators, and mental health professionals alike. According to research from The New York Times, more than 9 out of 10 school counselors noted that their students were exhibiting more symptoms of anxiety and depression after returning to in-person learning.

The following question was asked as part of the 2021 Connecticut School Health Survey (CSHS), “During the past 30 days, on how many days did you not go to school because you felt you would be unsafe at school or on your way to or from school?” 12.3% of female students reported feeling unsafe on at least one day during the 30 days before the survey, compared to 8.5% of male students. 15% of all Hispanic/Latino students reported feeling unsafe (CSHS summary graphs).

Aside from safeguarding youth over general concerns about too much social media use and screen time, adults and caregivers play a crucial role in supporting youth mental health and preventing their self-harm. All too real threats of physical violence including bullying and cyberbullying impact youth in profound ways, which is why school and internet safety should be a top concern. Hurtful words seen by many online are often connected to in-person altercations in school. 

Mark Irons, SERAC’s Suicide Prevention Program Lead, adds, “Suicide prevention is all our responsibility. The power and ability to connect with others in our community is a superpower we all possess and takes very little to exercise but can have such powerful results.”

Students who experience bullying are more likely to suffer from mental health issues including depression. offers these prevention areas for adults:

  • Help kids understand bullying
  • Keep the lines of communications open
  • Encourage kids to do what they love
  • Model how to treat others with kindness and respect

Addressing this particular issue can help youth build resilience and enable them to focus on their studies and extracurricular activities. You can learn more about mental health risk factors, warning signs, myths, and stigmas at our Bring the Light to Mental Health & Wellness page.

What You Can Do If Your Child Is Struggling

Supporting children on their life’s journey includes teaching them about the importance of strong mental health. When adults notice a child struggling, intervention should be based on the situation, ranging from addressing immediate danger to accessing resources in school and within the community. Normalizing this area of care and self-care can strengthen youth resilience, setting them up to be more successful in school and later in life.

In emergency situations, there are several options available including dialing 911 or the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline. To support local communities, the state of Connecticut has opened four mental health crisis centers for children and youth. The Child and Family Agency of Southeastern CT, Inc. crisis center located at 255 Hempstead St. in New London will be open from 8 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday with hours expanding. No appointment is needed. Caregivers can learn more by calling (860) 437-4550.

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