Teaching students about mental health

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BY JEFFREY LEWIS AND DR. POOJA MITTAL

Journal special

The pandemic has hit students across the economic divide. Their shared experience of going to school, meeting friends, attending classes, and participating in school activities disappeared overnight. And was replaced by all the social interactions that took place in front of a computer. Not only did COVID-19 transform their entire social and academic structure, it also caused significant grief in some when a family or loved one died from the disease. These students have now returned to the classroom and are facing the consequences of their entire lives.

Some children have returned with fear in their eyes. Others hope the pandemic does not lead to a return to home study in front of the computer screen. Whatever their concern, children often find it difficult to put their feelings into words. This is a critical time to intervene – as the pandemic has already worsened her mental health.

During the pandemic, teen suicide rates rose and students showed up in hospital emergency rooms with a mental health crisis. In addition, rates of depression, anxiety and, in some cases, suicide or attempted suicide have increased across the country. Yet there were few, if any, resources on which parents in rural communities could rely.

As a result of this unprecedented psychological crisis, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to act and make a difference immediately. Legacy Health Endowment has partnered with Health Net, one of the state’s longest serving and most experienced medical partners, to provide a grant to the Denair Unified School District to launch a unique pilot project aimed at helping affected Grade 6 students. 12 support through mental health problems.

Under the direction of Dr. Neha Chaudhary, MD, a two-time certified child psychiatrist, will attend a mandatory two and a half hour seminar for all 6th-12th grade students to expand their knowledge of mental health and improve their ability to identify signs and symptoms of mental health stress and a better understanding of how their mental health can be improved.

“What better place to reach children face to face than where they have to spend more waking hours?” asks Dr. Chaudhary. “We’re doing two big things with this program. First, we provide mental health training and coping skills to children in middle and senior grades in the daily classroom. Second, we invite the voices of the people we want to help, ”said Dr.

Rural California does not have enough child psychiatrists or therapists trained to help children. That makes this opportunity and partnership all the more important. Educating students about their mental health is an essential first step. Children need to know that it’s okay not to feel good about yourself – and that there is a way to feel better about yourself. That is the goal and claim of this new, creative partnership.

– Jeffrey Lewis is President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment. Dr. Pooja Mitta, DO, is the medical director of HealthNet.


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