By ALEXIS DEHNER – Student Contributor
As if the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t already caused enough people to physically suffer from contracting the virus, it has also led many to struggle with something that is a lot less talked about: mental health.
To figure out exactly how the pandemic was affecting young people mentally, I sent out a survey through several social media platforms and received 191 responses from various locations across the U.S. The majority of participants were enrolled in either high school or college.
The survey began by asking people how they were feeling at the current moment. Although some people stated that they had positive feelings, most responded negatively with answers such as numb, anxious, unmotivated, and/or mentally exhausted. Later in the survey, it became apparent that school work was worsening pre-existing issues, as 57.1 percent stated that their largest factor of stress was school.
With 46.6 percent of people admitting that they felt insecure due to their current situation, these numbers serve as a huge sign that something must be done to combat the drastic decline of people’s mental health. While many different ideas were presented on how the unfavorable conditions could be changed, many individuals stated that they felt that mental health care was not nearly accessible enough. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 children have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, yet only about 20 percent of these children had access to mental health care services.
The lack of education surrounding mental health is one of the many reasons mental health care is so inaccessible. In fact, many of the survey responses mentioned a desire for mental health to be covered more prominently in school. As mental health is something that isn’t discussed nearly enough, mental illnesses are often left unnoticed until after the illnesses have already led to more severe issues. Ignorance has prevented proper diagnoses thanks to a tendency to overlook the root problems, but so has the strong stigma surrounding mental illness. Many people often refrain from receiving aid as an attempt to protect themselves from the discrimination sometimes experienced by those who have previously reached out for help with their mental illnesses.
This leads to the second issue: a lack of professionals in the field. There are not nearly enough mental health specialists to go around, an even greater shortage of which can be seen in rural areas. As a result of this deficiency, patients oftentimes have to travel great distances to receive help, making it nearly impossible for those who don’t have a reliable source of transportation to obtain any kind of assistance. Even if individuals are aware that they likely have a mental illness and of a nearby specialist, insurances don’t typically cover mental health services. An hour long therapy session can frequently cost over $250 without insurance, making it unaffordable for the majority.
These issues bring us to the final question: what should we do to make mental health support accessible to all? For now, we must work to raise awareness on the issue and make the best of what we can. If schools lightened the academic workload to implement better mental health support during these times, that in itself would create a huge difference for a great deal of minors. By teaching healthy self-care and coping strategies, the signs of mental illnesses, and how to help those struggling, students would not only be able to understand how to support themselves, but how to help others as well. As more people become educated, this may direct others to a career in the mental health field, filling up much needed spots and making mental health care more accessible in rural areas.
As we educate, we must also materialize what we already have available and establish services to help those affected. Support groups are a very effective tool that can be easily implemented into our current educational system. By giving students an outlet to connect with others in similar situations, they will be able to feel a sense of belonging and inspire each other with their progress, all while learning how to manage their mental health.
Together, we can make a great impact in improving the lives of all affected by the challenge of mental illness. By educating, raising awareness, and pushing for change, we will attain our end goal of making mental health care services accessible to all.
Alexis Dehner is a student at Cranberry High School and a member of Cranberry Chronicles, the school’s journalism/publications class.