ST. LOUIS ( -- Local teens say they are experiencing real mental health issues in the midst of the pandemic, and there's one particular place they feel was really failing them: their schools.

“When you have nothing to do and you’re stuck, you feel alone all the time,” Joseph Price said, a college student.

We spoke with students in middle school all the way through college. Each of them said the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on their mental health. “I could barely get up. I would have like six mental breakdowns a day,” Abby McCandless said, a tenth-grader.

But while the struggle for students started when schools shut their doors last year, even after kids returned to the classroom, many still had strong words about their school districts.

“It is almost like they don't care for our mental health as much as [they care about] saving face and saving people from the coronavirus,” Charlie Mathis said, an eighth-grader.

“They don't give us any resources for mental health. They say social distance, save lives," Annabelle Thompson said, a high school junior. "They don't say 'it’s a tough time for everyone.'” 

Regina Whittington is one of four social/emotional behavior specialists in the Rockwood School District. She said the school is seeing an increase in anxiety since the pandemic. She said school resources are reserved for those who can't afford to find help elsewhere. 

“That's reserved to students who don't have access to mental health outside of school or have a lot of barriers to get access to those services,” Whittington said.

She says the school district is working to help students with their mental health. Counselors and social workers are also on staff. But screen time fatigue made reaching out for services challenging. Even seeing students now in person, those who want to help are separated by plexiglass from the people who need them.

Rockwood School District effort to help with mental health

“I think there is innate challenges with people, especially young people, to reach out, and one of the most effective strategies when you are struggling is reach out for that help,” Whittington said.

So the district created things like Mindfulness Mondays and a virtual calm space where students can watch videos to relax, reset and find their focus. Whittington acknowledged students' frustrations.

“I could see where kids are talking about the external things, the physical health. I think we can all do a better job at just letting kids know we are here in different ways,” she said.

Still, students are wishing the districts would do more to address their mental health, saying out of all the changes from the pandemic, that may have the most lasting impact.

“I think all the teens are going to be traumatized by this. I know, I certainly will,” McCandless said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected parents, and if you worry about what your student is struggling with, you can find resources through the Saint Louis MHB and the Missouri Mental Health Support

After nearly a year of social isolation, many experts fear the worst for our kids and young adults. A group of teens from different districts spoke to us about their experience, begging for help and to be heard.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved


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