Like many other elected and appointed officials across the country and around the world, New York City’s mayor, officials and educators are realizing that the current state of mental health for school children is declining, and this may lead to a devastating long-term effect on their learning and futures. As such, they have set ambitious goals to launch the Universal Health Screening initiative for public schools in the next nine months.
“We know it’s easier and less expensive to grow a healthy child than it is to mend a broken adult,” First Lady Chirlane McCray said at de Blasio’s press conference.
Starting in September, New York City is launching social, emotional and academic screening for K-12 public school students to assess and triage their well-being.
The city will begin in the 27 communities hit hardest by COVID-19, setting up a community school in each of these neighbourhoods.
To go along with this, the city has committed to hiring additional social workers to address kids’ needs as part of this initiative. Governor Cuomo notes the state needs to work on expanding telehealth services and addressing issues like insurance reimbursement and updating regulations for further integration of telehealth to supplement these efforts.
“COVID-19 has changed not only the way we live, but the way healthcare providers support their patients, especially in regard to mental health. New Yorkers have adapted throughout 2020, but it is time to push telehealth to the next level in New York State and fully integrate it into our existing healthcare system. These proposals will better allocate our healthcare and technological resources for the 21st century,” Governor Cuomo stated.
Current statistics released by Effective School Solutions (ESS) around the impact of COVID-19 on student and teacher mental health show that:
- Student Mental Health Challenges are Acute, and Getting Worse: 83% of educators reported moderate to significant mental health challenges with students.
- Educators are Struggling as Much as Students: 84% of educators reported moderate to significant mental health challenges with teachers.
- Districts are Relying on a Multi-pronged Approach to Address Student Mental Health Challenges: 50% of districts have strengthened and expanded their counselling, clinical and therapeutic support to serve the higher number of students presenting with mental health issues.
- Significant Challenges and Gaps in the Mental Health Safety Net Still Exist: Most respondents expressed concerns about adequate resourcing to support the increased number of mental health challenges.
How Screening Students Will Help?
While New York City is making screening a key part of the solution, in other places across the country and around the world there are questions as to the benefit of screening, as some contend the issues are so pervasive that screening tells us what we already know; kids, like many adults, are suffering. While many or even a majority of students may be experiencing mental and other health and safety-related challenges, like most of healthcare, a one-size-all approach to treatment is unlikely to work.
The key to providing effective support for students is in being able to offer specific support for specific needs. And to be able to identify the specific needs of each student, we need to screen and assess them in ways that go deeper than simply asking if they are bothered by the impact COVID-19 had upon them and their families. One student’s anxiety stemming from parents who have lost their jobs, for example, may require vastly different support than a peer who is depressed due to the loss of a family member or friend. This is all accelerated as students’ routine support network of friends they commonly saw in the school hallways has disappeared or at best, been impeded due to social distancing rules.
In this same context, counsellors and even physicians were accustomed to speaking directly with students to identify the real issues and to implement a specific support program. But with the sheer numbers of students in need, and the barriers to face-to-face communication due to COVID-19, screening – digital screening in particular – can serve as a powerful tool in triaging students based on their specific needs. This in turn can enable counsellors, social workers, physicians, and others to more efficiently and effectively provide support. Combined with telehealth models of support delivery, New York City may be at the forefront of new models of supporting our student’s futures.
How Tickit Can Help
Taking into consideration the move towards telehealth services and away from the standard teacher/student or social worker/youth relationship that students are accustomed to, it is now more important than ever to ensure that we are empathetic in the design of the solutions we bring to our students, particularly if they are suffering from mental health challenges including feeling isolated, scared, and alone.
Empathetic screening and assessment tools foster success with students by offering a safe space for students to express their fears, concerns, and needs.
“If we’re not doing everything in our power to make sure students feel comfortable answering these important questions, then what’s the point?”
– Eric Gombrich, Tickit Health CEO
“Taking a digitally empathetic approach to ask our students questions builds trust, and enables counsellors, social workers, and educators to obtain more accurate and complete answers. And this, in turn, makes these passionate individuals looking after our children to be more efficient in providing support.”
“We need to make sure that in places like New York we are empowering our students’ voices to be heard. Once we do, everyone can work together to start addressing many of the unique challenges each of them have, and start them on the path to improved resilience, confidence, and mental health.”