There have been many stories about the detrimental effects of school closures on our children during the COVID-19 lockdown. There is significant concern about the long-term impact on learning, falling grades, and millions of children who have just gone missing from their digital classrooms and do not return when schools reopen.
Additionally, we have seen various reports about increasing mental health issues, primarily based on parent feedback. There have also been local reports of upticks in teen suicide. Clark County, Nevada, schools opened after 18 students in the district committed suicide. News reports say since the beginning of the school closures, 30 children have killed themselves in Cook County, Illinois. A lawsuit against a school district in San Francisco notes significant upticks in children requiring mental health services:
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has seen a 66 percent increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room and a 75 percent increase in youth who required hospitalization for mental health services, the lawsuit said, quoting pediatricians, child psychiatrists and emergency room doctors.
Last month, UCSF Children’s Emergency Department at Mission Bay reported record high numbers of suicidal children seen and treated, according to the legal filing which did not provide detailed numbers of cases and hospital visits. It also quoted doctors citing an increase in anxiety, depression and eating disorders among children, consistent with national data.
Now there is a report looking at medical claims for mental health treatment nationwide. An analysis from FAIR Health, the United States’ largest repository of data on private medical claims, studied year-over-year utilization of services for mental health diagnoses. The results should concern us on a national level. It is not clear how developing maladaptive coping mechanisms or suffering from a mental health disorder as a child will affect someone later in life. From the study for children aged 13-18:
- In March and April 2020, mental health claim lines as a percentage of all medical claim lines approximately doubled over the same months in the previous year.
- The pattern of increased mental health claim lines continued through November 2020, though to a lesser extent.
- Claim lines for intentional self-harm as a percentage of all medical claim lines increased 90.71 percent in March 2020 compared to March 2019.
- The increase was even more significant when comparing April 2020 to April 2019 at 99.83 percent.
- Claim lines for overdoses increased 94.91 percent as a percentage of all medical claim lines in March 2020 and 119.31 percent in April 2020 over the same months in 2019.
- In April 2020, claim lines for generalized anxiety disorder increased 93.6 percent as a percentage of all medical claim lines over April 2019
- Major depressive disorder claim lines increased 83.9 percent, and adjustment disorder claim lines 89.7 percent.
- The top three mental health conditions from January to November 2020 were, in order from most to least common, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and adjustment disorders.
- Eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder also became more common between March and November of 2020.
- Emergency room visits for mental conditions increased 8.3% year over year from March to November 2020. They peaked in September with a 22.8% increase.
For children ages 6-12, obsessive-compulsive disorder and tic disorders from the spring until November of 2020 all showed increases over 2019. Some months these increases are as high as 30%, with tic disorders increasing over time through November. These vocal, motor, and Tourette’s-like symptoms generally need to persist for a period of months to a year before diagnosis. Claims for attention deficit and related disorders all went down, indicating that teachers and school professionals often identified symptoms when they interfered with a child’s behavior or learning.
College-age students from 19-22 mirrored many of the trends in the 13-18 age group. However, there were also marked increases in ER visits for schizophrenia, bipolar, and panic disorders, indicating either a severe exacerbation of diagnosed illnesses or new-onset diagnoses. For teens and young adults, the percentage of girls suffering from mental health issues increased from a normal of about two-thirds of all diagnoses to a high of 73%. This gender difference was especially evident in the 13-18 age group for intentional self-harm claims. In August of 2020, girls account for 84% of cases. These claims may result in a successful suicide, along with overdoses.
Some of these claims represent children their parents will never see again. At some point soon, we will know what that number is. Anecdotal data indicates it will be far more than the 208 children under 18 who have died of COVID-19, according to the CDC. Many of the losses to COVID-19 tragically occurred in children who were very ill. Most of the suicides reported in the news occur with a healthy, high-functioning child and often gifted in a sport or academics. The loss of any child is an unspeakable tragedy. Losing a child to suicide leaves particular scars on parents and siblings.
As some states reopened and schools began in-person instruction, the researchers note that claims slowly started to decrease through November 2020, the last month analyzed. They go so far as to credit reopening for the decline. These trends in all age groups should clearly demonstrate that schools need to open now. Instead, our new secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, and his staff are worried about equity programs and developing “safe” school reopening plans.
Cardona is calling for a national summit, and his priority seems to be appeasing the teachers’ unions with performative nonsense. He also insists more money is required, noting the $130 billion for schools in Biden’s stimulus proposal. In February, the Committee for a Responsible Budget reported that state and local governments and teachers had not spent almost $145 billion from the previous package. At least 55% of them are open to in-person and hybrid learning.
Stop normalizing the ridiculous demands of teachers’ unions and the execrable AFT President Randi Weingarten. They would be back in the classroom today if they cared about our children’s health, safety, and learning. Real teachers all over the nation and the world are and have been for months. Job one should be reducing the power and influence of these unions through any legal means necessary.