By Thad Skunkweiler
I have been a fan of Tim Krohn’s Sunday column for as long as I’ve been a subscriber to The Free Press. However, the Jan. 24 column “Pandemic kids stressed, but they’ll be ok,” simply misses the mark. While I understand that his column is an opinion column and not meant to represent news, the tone and optimism shared about the pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health was about as far from the facts as possible.
Even prior to the pandemic, Minnesota’s children were experiencing significant challenges related to mental health. The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, put out by the Minnesota Department of Health, indicated that “more Minnesota students than ever reported having long-term mental health, behavioral or emotional problems.” Notably, 24 percent of Minnesota 11th graders reported seriously considering suicide at some point in their lives. Nearly one in 10 11th grade students reported attempting suicide. This was happening to our children prior to the stress added on from the pandemic.
To state that researchers and even “pseudo researchers” are having a “field day” writing about the psychological issues spawned by the pandemic is about as tone-deaf a statement that anyone who cares about children’s mental health can make.
Trust me, it creates no joy to report data that children are suffering at unprecedented levels. Countless studies examining the pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health say the same thing, the pandemic is making children’s mental health worse.
As a clinician, researcher and parent, the most concerning statistic coming from the data on the pandemics impact on mental health is data related to the number of mental health crises facing our children. A September 2020 article published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, stated that suicide hotlines have seen a “1000% increase in calls” related to pediatric mental health. Read that again, a 1,000% increase in calls.
Plainly stated, the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health is a public health crisis, one which we will battle long after we finish vaccinating for the virus.
The column goes on to state how the pandemics “unexpected detour in their lives” may go on to create resilience and “better prepare them for the ups and downs of life.” It’s important to note that resilience isn’t built by virtue of experiencing difficult situations. Building resilience in children is an active process. One that starts at home with parents followed by collaboration with educators and health care professionals.
The only way through the public health crisis facing our children is not one that can be legislated with bipartisan support, solved through executive orders, nor treated with a new pharmaceutical drug.
We as parents, grandparents, teachers and community members who care about our children, are the only solution in solving this crisis. We must foster an environment that listens to our children’s concerns, their fears, their worries.
We must be present to not only help them with their math homework but present to teach them the skills of building resilience through these challenging times. If we do that, we can start the long journey of recovering from the psychological impacts of COVID-19.
Thad Shunkwiler is a licensed behavioral health provider who works as an assistant professor in the Department of Health Science at Minnesota State University and is appointed to the Blue Earth County — Mental Health Task Force.