ARLnow learned last month that there were reports of deaths and suicide attempts among Arlington Public Schools students.
A middle school student died after Christmas, and a high school student died in mid-January, according to school officials.
Since the end of winter break, Arlington schools have had medics deployed multiple times due to student suicide attempts, overdoses and other substance abuse problems, according to Scanner Traffic. In one case, at the same school he was sent twice in one day by a doctor to report a drug-induced suicide attempt.
“Based on anecdotal information from reports from principals and student services personnel, we explore student needs and how they are coping with multiple impacts on their lives and how they We continue to be concerned about how we are being part of student choices, actions and statements, Darrell Sampson, Executive Director of Student Services at APS, told ARLnow.
Due to privacy concerns, we were unable to comment on specific cases.
These incidents are part of a trend toward increased mental health needs for children. During the 2021-22 school year, APS saw a “significantly higher” number of suicide risk assessments compared to his 2020-21 school year, according to Sampson, while the Arlington County Department of Social Services clinician , reported an increase in students exhibiting self-harm.
In general, school mental health professionals see students struggling to navigate stressful life experiences successfully as pandemic-era isolation leads to less social interaction in the past. APS ended in-person learning in Spring 2020 and resumed in-person instruction for all students midway through the 2021-22 school year.
“You have children … years of missed opportunities that could build resilience skills and social-emotional capacity through everyday experiences,” he said. “Now they’re back in school and they’re going through the same things that our students have always gone through at school: struggles in class, with friends, and struggles in everyday life.” Their bag of skills is totally different. [equipped] And when stressful things happen in our lives, they can have a stronger impact. “
Elizabeth Hughes, senior director of research for the Northern Virginia Community Foundation, told ARLnow that the mental health of children across the Northern Virginia area is deteriorating. She will release her detailed findings next Wednesday.
About 37% of public high school students experienced recent symptoms of clinical anxiety and depression last winter, and 34% reported persistent sadness last year, according to her next report.
One in 10 high school students seriously considered suicide in the past year, with a relatively high proportion of middle school students. Just under one in two high school students in the area had a past or recent mental health need.
She says the pandemic has only accelerated a longer rising trend of teens’ anxiety, constant worry, sadness and loss of interest.
” [American Academy of Pediatrics] declared a national emergency for children’s mental health, but the word ’emergency’ feels much more ephemeral than what we’re seeing,” she said. More young people than ever need help, but the story is much bigger than the aftershocks of the pandemic.”
Signs of deteriorating mental health
A patchwork of local, regional, and statewide data shows that more children are experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression, or are contemplating suicide.
First, APS conducted nearly 900 suicide risk assessments in the 2021-22 school year, up from over 700 in the 2018-19 school year. The decline in grade 2019-20 and her grade 2020-21 was due to the child not being identified for virtual learning.
A 2022 survey of APS students found that students were most likely to report having positive feelings about themselves in sixth grade, but those feelings were tapers as you go.
Less than half of middle and high school students, on the other hand, said they had a sense of belonging and a sense of belonging that allowed them to control their emotions and set and achieve goals.
These rates were higher among students in grades 3-5.
In late 2021, the Arlington County Department of Human Services announced, “Self-harm, suicidal ideation, and,” according to the department’s performance report shared with ARLnow.
The DHS performance report shows that the number of clients served by DHS is declining despite the growing need for mental health services.
Children are experiencing more “life stressors” and fewer “protective factors” to deal with, says Hughes. have less than 2 protective factors, including positive relationships with adults, activity and community involvement, and self-esteem, compared with 21% pre-pandemic.
“I was surprised to see how much difference it made to these rates when there were caring adults in the community,” she said. No. It seems like an obvious area the community could focus on: mentoring, coaching, and finding other ways to bond with teenagers outside the family.”
Hughes said targeting the mental health needs of adults helps improve how children feel about themselves. It is most prevalent in the lives of young people, especially teenagers: those with children, those who work in schools and health care.
“If we want to increase the number of trustworthy, caring adults who can support young people in crisis, we need to support adults in crisis too,” she said. “Not just mental health services, but programs and services that address some of the root causes of these problems, including material insecurity, isolation, and the need for community and purpose.
She encouraged community members and caregivers to prioritize sleep, reduce screen time, and moderate their children’s homework.
“Obviously, these buckets of activity — time spent in school or activities, time spent sleeping, time spent looking at screens, and everything else — must fit into a 24-hour day, so there is no overdoing it on one activity. Investing in young people is likely to dry up another,” she said.
What APS does
When a student or staff member dies, student services will partner with the school to provide services such as small group discussions with individual friends and classroom discussions, Sampson said.
“When there is a lot of loss in a short period of time, regardless of the means, we want to look at our district-wide support, messages, opportunities, curricula, or training to make sure we are delivering to our communities. , giving students and staff the skills they need to follow up and support that particular community,” he said.
Earlier this month, APS sent two emails. The first, which calls attention to efforts to prevent drug overdoses, comes months after ARLnow reported concerns about drug use from parents. That mental health message was repeated after the elementary school shooting at Newport News.
APS, on the other hand, is a system of standardized curricula that teaches children the basics of how to regulate and manage their emotions, as well as the skills to connect with peers and understand themselves, known as social-emotional learning. We are working on expanding it across the board.
“As we continue to build it as a school district, our students are equipped with the fundamental skills to succeed in school, after secondary school, and in life,” Sampson said.
Middle school and high school students can learn how to spot the signs of suicidal risk in themselves and their friends and be taught which adults to talk to in such situations, he said.
“Students can be very supportive of each other, and students come forward and share their concerns about their friends,” he said. It consistently emphasizes the need for students to know
Struggling to Hire More Mental Health Professionals
Parents on the APS Student Services Advisory Board this month sounded the alarm on these needs and urged the school system to increase funding for full-time social workers and psychologists.
“There is not enough mental health care available for local children to meet their existing and expected continued needs,” the commission said in its January 4 report. This makes it more important than ever that APS has sufficient internal resources to meet the growing needs of its students.”
“Not all primary schools currently offer full-time services to students, and some school psychologists and social workers have multiple school responsibilities,” the report continued. “Student needs for school psychologists and social workers are not aligned with the availability of these professionals.”
Funding for additional full-time social workers and psychologists could cost about $2.2 million a year, according to the report, but the committee said “this need is too great to be left unmet.” I can’t,’ he said.
APS has counselors in every school, psychologists and social workers assigned to each school, and department-wide substance use counselors. , he says, filling vacant positions, let alone creating new positions, can be difficult.
As of today (Thursday), in addition to the primary school counselor position posted yesterday, the secondary school counselor position has become vacant from August 2022.
Sampson said proposing state legislation to create a template memorandum of understanding between the school system and the government for the exchange of mental health services could help.
“There is a problem with community providers and that puts pressure on schools because if people are on a six-month waiting list with a community or private provider for a particular intervention or support, Because it puts more strain on us and the school to support the mental health of our students,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into supporting the mental health and well-being of our students. Communities struggle to find providers and meet the needs of the adult population as well as children and adolescents. because there is.”