Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Paget Hetherington
on November 2, 2021

On October 19, 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health. The joint declaration points out that “the pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in emergency department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency department visits in early 2021 for suspected suicide attempts increased by 50.6% among girls aged 12–17 when compared to the same period in 2019. Here at Gaggle, our data indicated an 87% increase in overall student safety incidents referencing suicide and self-harm, as well as a staggering 252% increase in incidents at the elementary level. “Our children are clearly facing more challenges than ever before, including online bullying, sexual grooming, as well as the unexpected deaths of loved ones from COVID-19,” shared child psychologist Dr. Lisa Strohman.

A recent study found that more than 140,000 children in the U.S. lost a parent or caregiver as a result of COVID-19 between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. And youth of color have been disproportionately impacted, with approximately 1 in 753 white children, 1 in 612 Asian children, 1 in 412 Hispanic children, 1 in 310 Black children, and 1 in 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood or death of grandparent caregivers. 

LGBTQ youth are also suffering at disproportional rates, with more than 80% stating that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful in a recent survey. In addition, 70% of those surveyed stated that their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during the pandemic, while 42% indicated that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year—including more than half of youth who identify as transgender and nonbinary. LGBTQ youth are also four times more likely to seriously consider suicide than their peers who identify as straight or cisgender, making it more critical than ever to ensure these underserved populations receive the resources they need to feel supported and accepted. 

In response to this national emergency, the AAP, AACAP, and CHA are calling on policymakers to advocate for increased funding for mental health screenings and care, school-based mental health care, trauma-informed care services, and community-based systems connecting families to services and supports for behavioral health. In addition, the organizations recommend strengthening efforts to reduce the risk of suicide through prevention programs, promoting financially sustainable mental health care in primary care pediatrics, and policies that help ensure mental health parity laws are enforced. 

The mental health crisis affecting children and adolescents has been growing for years, forcing school districts to become more proactive in monitoring and providing services to support students in need. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened stressors for many students, and Gaggle’s data has revealed increases in student safety incidents since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Our latest report, Through the Gaggle Lens: The State of Student Safety, detailed the alarming student behaviors seen during the 2020–21 school year, including more than 142,000 references to suicide and self-harm—8,715 of which required imminent intervention to ensure student well-being.  

Our children are suffering, and we must all do what we can to support and protect them. It is our responsibility—as parents, as educators in loco parentis, and simply as fellow humans—to care for our youth and their mental health. Good mental health is critical for children to succeed in school and life, so it’s vital that we take action to address this state of emergency head-on. 

Here are some resources you can tap into—day or night—to help those who are struggling and in need of support:

    • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 
    • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
    • The Trevor Project: Text START to 678-678, call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386), or reach out via online chat
    • The Anti-Violence Project Hotline: 212-714-1141
    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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