Student mental health struggles intensify as high schools remain closed year into pandemic
When the coronavirus pandemic first closed schools last year, one Chicago mother watched as her son — then a freshman at a public school on the North Side — became hyper-focused on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily briefings, spurring disappointment every time he announced a delay in reopening schools.
As Chicago Public Schools remained closed for the rest of the year and did not reopen in the fall, the mother said her son’s anxiety and depression manifested more severely as he became too angry to function.
He remains “emotionally miserable,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “He’s in therapy, he’s taking medication. This has never been true before.”
High school students in CPS still have no idea when they will return in person this school year, even as kindergarten through fifth graders returned to classrooms last week and 6-8 graders return Monday. CPS officials on Friday said high school students could opt-in for in-person learning possibly later this spring, but no deal has been reached with the Chicago Teachers Union, and no details of how schools would look if they open their doors have been released.
Now nearing a year of schools being closed, students are suffering from more intense symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, according to mental health experts.
Nationwide, the number of children’s mental health-related emergency department visits increased steadily from April to October 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For children ages 12-17, the number of visits increased by 31% compared to 2019.
At Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, from September 2020 to January 2021, the rate of emergency department visits for mental health concerns doubled compared to the year before, rising from 2.4% to 4.2% of all cases. While the pandemic more than halved the number of emergency room visits overall, the number of mental health visits remained about the same as the prior year.
Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, an emergency room physician at Lurie, said although there was a hesitancy to visit the emergency room during the pandemic, mental health concerns for some children were so high that families deemed the risk necessary.
Keep reading Clare Proctor’s story here.
9:50 a.m. Polar Plunge goes virtual amid COVID-19
Every year for the last two decades, thousands of people ascend to North Avenue to dive into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities.
In 2020, nearly 5,000 people charged into the lake, raising a record-setting $2.2 million during what turned out to be one of the last major events in the city to take place before the pandemic uprooted life as we knew it.
But that wasn’t the case this year. Like so many other traditions, this year’s Polar Plunge was forced to take place virtually, with Sunday marking the final day of the weeklong event.
Many participants got creative with the reimagined Polar Plunge.
Some still made the trip to the lakefront to take a dip in Lake Michigan, while another group constructed a homemade dunk tank that they set up in an alleyway. On Saturday, students and teachers at St. Patrick High School hosted a fun-filled event outside on the school’s football field and raised about $10,700.
Find out how others participated in the Polar Plunge this year.
- State health officials reported 1,068 new probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases Sunday, the fewest new cases recorded in a day since July 21. Sunday’s cases were found among the 68,094 tests processed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, for a daily positivity rate of roughly 1.6%.
- Illinois’ daily caseload has surpassed 2,000 only twice in March, 10 times in the last month and twice in March. Because of this, the state’s seven-day positivity rate has dropped close to an all-time low. On Sunday, that figure, which experts use to gauge the spread of the virus across the state, was 2.3% — down a full percentage point from one month ago.
- Officials also announced 14 virus-related deaths, marking the smallest daily pandemic death toll since October. Five of those fatalities were reported in the Chicago area.
- Statewide hospitalizations have returned to pre-peak levels, too. As of Saturday night, 1,141 beds were occupied statewide by coronavirus patients, with 255 of those patients in intensive care units and 112 on ventilators, officials said.