GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — School districts and mental health facilities are reporting a significant uptick in mental health struggles among students.
On Tuesday, Jamal Fisher, a behavioral specialist at Grand Rapids Public Schools, testified before the Senate education committee. Fisher spoke about increased reports of anxiety, depression and thoughts of self harm from students and parents.
“Grand Rapids Public School students have been negatively impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Students being isolated from their extended family, educators and peers has proven to be challenging,” Fisher said to the committee.
The uptick in mental health challenges is also reflected in statistics from local facilities like Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.
“It’s been a very busy time for us here,” said Dr. Shannon Drabek, who is a clinical psychologist at Pine Rest’s Grandville office. “High achievers who normally didn’t struggle with school now are finding it challenging to manage schoolwork and the disconnecting from their friends and all those components where they had it together pre-pandemic. They had the supports in place.”
In 2020, Pine Rest reports a 15% increase in total inpatient admissions. They say some of the highest increases were in children. Pine Rest saw a 16% increase in mental health services for kids aged 13 to 17. They recorded a 19% increase in inpatient services for kids under 13.
“Depression is a big one for everyone; anxiety is another one. Anxiety coming from the uncertainty of knowing is school going to be open from time to time,” Fisher said. “I believe these are issues that were always here, and I do believe the global pandemic bubbled some of these concerns to the surface.”
GRPS, which is classified as a high poverty and high needs district, says its students are now battling mental health issues in addition to things like homelessness, food insecurity and incarcerated parents.
Fisher says the district is now talking about adding to their six-person mental health services team. He advocated for more mental health services in his Tuesday testimony.
“I think we’re going to see some lasting effects as we integrate back to school,” Fisher said.
Both the district and Pine Rest say they’re encouraging anyone who has been struggling with their mental health to reach out.
If you or someone you know has been struggling with anxiety, depression or thoughts of self-harm, please call the Michigan mental health helpline at 1.888.535.6136 and press 8.