RED WING -- Eighth-grader Devon Copley first raised the topic of student mental health during a January Youth Commission workshop when the members were working to brainstorm topics to focus on in 2021.

Copley, senior Rachel Hauschildt and Youth Commission Chair Alainn Hanson all voiced their interest and agreed to form a team to dig into student mental health and bring thoughts and ideas about it back to the commission.

Hanson told the Republican Eagle, “I think it is important that the Youth Commission looks at mental health because the topic of mental health has always been a heavily stigmatized topic, especially in young people. Young people are struggling with mental illness especially right now in the middle of a pandemic and finding ways for the youth to have easy access to mental health resources would be a great benefit to the community.”

Even before the pandemic, youth were vulnerable to growing mental health illnesses. The World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations shared facts about global trends in students’ mental health:

  • Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years.

  • Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 but most cases are undetected and untreated.

  • Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents (defined and individuals 10-19 years).

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens 15 to 19.

  • The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.

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While mental health was a vital topic of focus for schools and communities before March 2020, the pandemic has emphasized the need to provide mental health resources to students locally and nationally.

The full impact of the pandemic on adolescent mental health is unknown. but it is clear that youth are being hit hard. Richa Bhatia published an article in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry that stated, “the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may include exacerbation and/or worsening of mental health challenges among children and adolescents with preexisting psychiatric conditions, and potential new onset of mental health challenges, particularly, anxiety and stress-related disorders among at-risk children and adolescents.”

The three Youth Commission members all agreed that more could be done here o help local youth with mental health.

“I think the mental health resources at school are OK, but what I want to look for more is outside of school," Copley said, later adding “I just want to see more mental health reach out throughout the community and not just at the schools ... we could separate school for mental health because a lot of kids don't feel comfortable talking in that situation.”

Hauschildt explained that the availability of resources may have changed due to the pandemic. “Our counselors are really busy right now because there's a whole bunch of students and a really little amount of time to do it,” she said. “And so we're all stressed. We are stressed to the bone.”

Chris Palmatier is the Twin Bluff principal. He knows the difficulties that his students and staff are facing.

“Providing resources for mental health should always be a priority,” Palmatier said. “But during this pandemic we have also lost those things that are considered good for mental health.”

Palmatier explained that routines are important for good mental health, but many routine activities such as sports, theater and student groups have been interrupted. Palmatier stated, “I can't predict what the fall will be like, but we need to figure out how to bring those back for students in a safe way. That might take some creativity, but I have seen it happen.”

While the pandemic has been felt by every Red Wing student, Copley emphasized that COVID-19’s impacts have been more taxing for some students than others. “I know that students of color especially have a harder time," he said. "nd of course, there are rising concerns about vaccinations.”

Conversations about health equity are growing throughout the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention explains on its website, “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. The term ‘racial and ethnic minority groups’ includes people of color with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. But some experiences are common to many people within these groups, and social determinants of health have historically prevented them from having fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health.”

The full impact of the pandemic on student mental health will not be known until long after the world returns to normal. But, it is clear today that students in Red Wing and beyond need mental health support. Hanson explained, “I can definitely say the pandemic has greatly affected my mental health as well as the mental health of many of my friends. COVID has made the world come to a stop and so many kids have lost vital parts of their high school experience as well as just age markers in general. Missing homecomings, getting your driver's license, performances and sports. I think a lot of kids are feeling lost and not being able to regain the motivation and ambition they once had.”