How to make the most of another pandemic-impacted school year

As summer vacation winds down for students, a third pandemic-impacted school year approaches. Uncertainty and anxiety may linger as teens reenter school environments.

During times of disruption, youth are more likely to be affected by mental health issues and use of negative coping skills such as substance use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that mental health-related emergency room visits for adolescents age 12-17 increased 31 percent last year, and suicide attempts of girls were over 50 percent higher from late February to late March 2021 compared to the same time in 2019.

“While some youth have the resiliency and coping skills to adjust to circumstances, many are struggling,” said Rosecrance Director of Outreach Mary Egan. “Those youth really have missed the structure, accountability, and connections of a school routine. Even though we’re trying to go back to normal, we can’t expect life and supports to immediately go back to what they were before the pandemic.”

Rosecrance experts offer a few suggestions to help families begin the year strong:

  • Watch for any behavior change, mood swings, altered sleep or eating patterns, or self-harm.
  • Without becoming a helicopter parent, monitor children’s web and social media use for inappropriate content or conversations.
  • Have open, honest conversations about current events and life stress as a family. If the adults are honest about their struggles, it will be easier for children to share their feelings.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable discussing something with family, reach out to a trusted professional. For adults, that could be a counselor, therapist, or religious leader. For youth, that could be a school counselor or social worker.
  • Take an occasional break. A walk, quick workout, mindfulness activities, reading books for fun, and other hobbies are excellent stress relievers.

In addition, Rosecrance’s Back to School Virtual Resources Toolkit and Rosecrance Virtual hub provide useful information to help families and education professionals understand signs and symptoms of behavioral health issues, and how to guide teens through treatment. These resources also include information about parent and family supports, assessments, prevention and early intervention (PEI), intensive outpatient therapy (IOP), interventions, the Alumni program, and a library of video presentations. Many of these services also are available in person.

In addition, we invite you to listen to the “On Your Radar” podcast. This is an ongoing series of conversations with Rosecrance experts hosted by WGN radio personality John Williams. The first six episodes in the series focus on substance use and mental health topics related to adolescents and their families.

“Working with teens can be difficult sometimes, and that is why it is so important to work together to support them,” Egan said. “When parents, families, schools, and behavioral health experts collaborate, it is easier to remove barriers to lasting recovery.”