The Mental Health Toll of Keeping Schools Closed

February 4, 2021 – As a pediatrician, I have the privilege of hearing from parents and the responsibility of helping them. Lately I’ve heard heart-wrenching stories of suffering: from the father whose 14-year-old daughter sobs in his bathroom three times a week, depressed about being isolated, to the mother whose son fails all eighth grade subjects. year online school, to the family whose daughter overdosed for the second time from this pandemic due to suicidal thoughts.

The consequences of social isolation and school disruptions for children have been devastating. Many parents also struggle, trying to help with online schooling while balancing a home job and housework, a challenge that has led women, who bear the majority of the burden, to leave the job market. mass work. In the space of 6 months last year, 2.2 million women left the workforce and 100% of the jobs lost in December were women.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on our mental health at all levels. Rates of depression and anxiety are skyrocketing, spiking related problems like opioid addiction, which has increased by 40%. Suicide hotlines show an increase of 65%, mainly among seniors and adolescents.

For children, many of these mental health pressures relate to online education. When we took the children out of the classrooms, they not only lost a sense of structure, but also a much needed outlet for socializing – a place where they can play and talk to their classmates and friends.

There are also other important issues that are snowballing. Children with special learning needs and disabilities are at home without services. One in four food insecure children do not get the lunches they would have at school. Many children do not have a laptop or an Internet connection at home and may not learn at all, which can lead to wasted years in development and education.

A significant and understandable concern was the potential risk to teachers and school staff. When the pandemic began, there were concerns that school children could spread the virus among themselves and with school staff. Fortunately, we now have a lot of data to show that while schools follow strict health guidelines such as masking and distancing, they don’t.


Sara Bode, MD, pediatrician and president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health, reviewed the research. Two large studies – one from North Carolina involving more than 11 school districts and 90,000 students and one in Wisconsin that analyzed 17 schools – both showed a low risk of spread when using masks and social distancing. In Europe, a large study from Iceland, where they monitored 40,000 people, found that children catch and spread the coronavirus half as much as adults. Note that no one was vaccinated in these studies.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD reiterated it during a White House COVID press briefing on Wednesday. Based on the data, vaccinating teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools, she said. “It is urgent,” says Bode, “that the children return to physical school”.

Much data and experience now shows that by following strict public health measures, we CAN reopen schools safely. Let’s help our children get what they desperately need. And in doing so, help our families and our society find a better place.

WebMD Commentary

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have any questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This commentary is intended for informational purposes only.© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Jothi Venkat

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