Dealing With The Next Wave of Mental Health Issues
COVID has created ‘tremendous pockets of isolation,’ says Care Solace CEO Chad Castruita. In the days ahead, districts will need to address rising levels of stress and anxiety.
How has the pandemic changed what you’re seeing in terms of interest and approach to delivering mental health?
Our organization has tripled in the last four months. Parents have lost their jobs. Family members are out of work and kids are scared. They don’t know what to do and it’s impacted their ability to show up online for a distance learning class. Attendance has been impacted in a serious way.
COVID has exacerbated a lot of fear and anxiety. School systems are trying to figure out how they can take a physical model and move it to a more digital remote model to continue and carry on with services to support the needs and wellbeing of their students.
Do you see an increase in willingness to address mental health services?
There’s definitely an increase from school districts. No question about it. But I don’t know if that directly correlates into a willingness from families. Families still have significant concerns. They still have privacy concerns. They still have anonymity concerns. I think a lot of the same barriers and stigmas are there for families, as it relates to their own wellbeing and their own issues.
What would you like to see schools do more to help address that?
Messaging, engagement, empathy, sincerity, understanding, sharing real stories, getting people to communicate and collaborate in a digital pathway—they’re all really important. Also, it’s important to get family members together and connect people. COVID has created tremendous pockets of isolation and it’s further exacerbated the issues. But I think school systems, as well as service providers and organizations, can help support bringing people out of isolation and into a pathway of comfort, of understanding, of empathy and clarity and ultimately creating a better wellbeing for everybody.
Do you feel like the distance learning will intensify some of these issues?
Yes, there’s no question about it. Back in March and April we saw that parents were stressed. Those that were working or those that lost their jobs were tasked with trying to figure out how they’re going to get their kids online, how to be present online, how to meet the attendance requirements, the curriculum requirements. It was a nightmare.
I think that’s tempered a bit as school districts have moved to roll out better distance learning pathways and modalities to service this need. But it still is a source of stress for families that are in this new domain of having to educate and to be present inside the home and make sure requirements are met.
School systems, as well as service providers and organizations, can help support bringing people out of isolation and into a pathway of comfort, of understanding, of empathy and clarity and ultimately creating a better wellbeing for everybody.
Is the reality that these services have to be provided on campus?
Well it was, but now services are moving to telehealth modalities. Taking HIPAA compliant pathways—Zoom, Google Meeting and others—will move these school-based therapists to face-to-face time online, not in a physical manner. That’s happening now.
Are there elements that you would like to see incorporated into the design of campuses to help these issues?
I think parents need the ability to quickly connect with the school system. They need to be able to share and collaborate in real time. So, how does the future campus, this new physical structure, connect multiple people simultaneously across school sites, across districts, across zip codes, across cultural and race, across gender? How we engage in better collaboration and community engagement and parent engagement in a digital environment is going to be vital to these layers of support that are going to be created and innovated in the future.
Do you see a disproportional impact of COVID on different groups of students?
Yes, there’s definitely a gap amongst race. There’s definitely issues with services and capacity of services for race. For income level, that existed pre-COVID. There will be a deeper gap as we get into the thick of things with post-COVID pathways and modalities, and people scrambling to try to meet needs and fill these gaps. But yes, I think there definitely is a disproportionate amount of resources available for certain races and genders and income levels. Absolutely.
What kind of integrated mental health support would you like to see?
I think the ability to customize and understand the needs of learners and the needs of a family members is vital to the equation. Services need to be available and accessible for families in real time. And being able to match those two together is really important.