COVID-19 has not only affected people’s physical health, but children’s mental health in CT

HARTFORD, Connecticut (WTNH) – The coronavirus has not only affected the physical health of people across Connecticut, but for many, the virus and the stress around it have also affected spirits. Unfortunately, children are not immune to the effects.

News 8’s Samaia Hernandez examined how the Hartford School District is helping students cope.

COVID-19 caught everyone off guard last March and pulled thousands of kids out of classrooms in one of Connecticut’s largest school systems. Some stayed away for up to 18 months.

“I don’t know if we’ll even really know the totality, depth and breath of the impact,” said Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools.

Hartford Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez knew the trauma of a deadly pandemic would impact children returning to in-person learning. She had no idea of ​​the prevalence of children acting or needing intervention.

“The first years, then in high schools, 8e and 9e grade, we are seeing an increase in these behaviors, ”said Dr. Torres-Rodriguez.

In the 2021-22 school year at Hartford Public Schools, there were 472 risk assessments and 71 mobile crisis interventions. Within three months of the start of the school year, more than 450 children exhibited disturbing behavior, with 71 cases requiring crisis intervention.

To combat all that the children have been through, Hartford Public Schools is increasing opportunities for children to have more connection and creativity, and for teachers to have more professional development on trauma.

“Enrichment opportunities, additional sports, arts and wellness programs throughout the day. After school we start an academy on Saturday, ”said Dr Torres-Rodriguez. “Our staff last year asked for additional professional learning, knowledge of trauma, how it manifests, how does it not manifest. “

Some of the more serious cases are in the emergency department at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where they have seen an increase in suicide attempts among older children.

“How significant their impairments are when they arrive. Rates of depression, rates of anxiety, eating disorders, aggression, ”said Dr. Melissa Santo, division chief of pediatric psychology.

In younger people, says Dr. Santos, “a lot more aggression, a lot more acts, a lot more beatings, pushes, acts, more violent behavior”.

Dr Santos says a busy emergency department is not a problem. This is the bottleneck that has become the mental health industry.

“It’s not so much the volume, but it’s the time they need to stay before we can get them into the next program because that next program has a hard time getting a child into the next program because it program is full. Our outpatient therapists in the community are full, so it has become a very crowded system, ”said Dr Santos.

This year, Hartford Schools added 20 social workers and 10 clinicians to all schools. It has expanded a partnership with nonprofit organizations in the region to provide referral services in 13 schools. Dr Santos says one of the best ways to help children at home is to be present and to listen.

“Sometimes we fix very quickly, but we just want to listen, listen, let them feel heard,” Dr Santos said.

For more information and how to get help, click here.

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