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“It’s really heavy.” Loudon Co. Schools sees uptick in mental health services

Pandemic anxiety is something you can’t see or touch, but for many kids it exists.
Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 6:29 PM EDT
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LOUDON, Tenn. (WVLT) - Pandemic anxiety is something you can’t see or touch, but for many kids it exists.

Students across all grades are impacted, but one Loudon County school counselor said her middle school students have been hit especially hard.

“This has definitely been the hardest year that I have ever worked as a school counselor,” said Kelly Jones.

Fourteen years on the job, but pandemic stress weighs heavy on the students who work with Kelly Jones.

Jones said, “It’s kids who have never been on my radar before for any other reason and this year it seems that we have a lot more kids who just need support.”

She said kids, including the ones at Philadelphia Elementary School, often know their life is pretty predictable. They go to school, have extra curricular activities, do homework and go to bed. But the pandemic has changed a lot of that.

“I think that started the increase of their anxiety. And then as our world continues to change and they don’t know what’s coming next because none of us do, that just continues to add to their anxiety,” explained Jones.

She said her mobile crisis calls have increased five times compared to years past. That means she’s with a student who is actively suicidal. Plus, 20% of students at the pre-k through 8th grade school have individual counseling or support in some way.

“Everyone is afraid of what’s going to happen if you do get sick or if someone you know and love gets sick,” said Jones, “Just the fear of what will happen there. I think that’s a lot of what’s driving the anxiety that we’re seeing in our students.”

The pandemic anxiety screener for students is what therapists like Catherine Hallam have begun offering.

“It’s a really great way for a therapist and for the school to kind of be able to monitor how a student is doing on the return back to in-person learning,” said Hallam.

It’s a five minute digital assessment, because pandemic news can be tough for these youngsters.

Hallam said, “They do not have the language or the pre-frontal cortex to deal with the pandemic the way that an adult does.”

It’s something Jones hadn’t heard of yet. Her hope is that helping kids through these struggles puts mental health stigma behind them.

“It doesn’t mean that you are weak. It just means that today you need a little extra help,” said Jones.

At Philadelphia Elementary School they’ve added double the staff to be at school during bus drop off in the morning. Students are asked how they are feeling so they can start their day a little bit stronger.

During this time experts encourage caregivers to check in with kids to see how they’re feeling.

The new pandemic anxiety screener is something therapists offer and may be covered by insurance or at the direct rate of the therapist.

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