New research reveals parents’ concerns for children's mental health in the current school year, with the impact of COVID topping their list

Children’s mental health remains a major concern

New research reveals parents’ concerns for children's mental health in the current school year, with the impact of COVID topping their list

The child and teen mental health crisis is still an issue in the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. While there is some indication that numbers might be stabilizing, remaining the same still means children’s and teens’ mental health are in a crisis. In fact, it is still a major concern that could have a lasting impact on the future of this generation of individuals as they grow and develop.      

The hard truth is that many children and teens need support to develop social skills, coping mechanisms, and emotional intelligence that are critical to lifelong well-being.  

Many of the same mental health challenges for children in the United States have remained consistent from the fall of 2021 to the fall of 2022, according to a new study titled Back to School 2022: The Mental Health and Wellbeing Impact on Children in America.

The study, based on a survey of 1,121 people in the U.S. who are parents of children under the age of 18, shows that the downward mental health trend seems to at least be stabilizing instead of getting worse.

Research revealed parents’ concerns for their children in the current school year. The most commonly cited issue that might negatively impact children’s mental health was COVID-19 (48%). This was closely followed by school safety (46%). Still, while nearly half mention school safety as a possible issue, a majority (81%) think their children feel safe returning to school.

Schools are a vital resource for parents, and they already shoulder much of the burden for stewarding the mental health of children in America. Even so, parents are still looking to them for additional help.

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When asked whom they count among their support network, parents identified friends (50%) and their parents (44%) as the top providers of support. After that, they cited their children’s schools as being an important part of their support group. One-third of the parents cited their child’s teachers and 25% cited school guidance counselors, the third and fourth most popular answers.

There are signs suggesting that access to mental healthcare among children is improving. However, parents and children still face substantial barriers. Parents said the biggest challenge to accessing care is the lack of available therapists, and the second is a lack of resources to find the right therapist.

While parents still face substantial difficulties with accessing care, they are finding access to be at least slightly easier across many different challenges when compared with the previous year.

The number of parents who cited challenges with a lack of therapists fell slightly year over year (from 39% to 36%), and the number of parents who cited a lack of resources to find the right therapist dropped from 38% to 32%.

It’s notable that only 13% of the parents considered a child’s therapist to be among their support network.

The survey reveals many children need additional support, with a large majority of the respondents (90%) said their children’s mental health has improved or remained the same since last year. Only 10% said their children’s mental health has gotten worse. Furthermore, as children entered the 2022 school year, 79% of parents said their children seemed well-adjusted or were simply experiencing “the usual ups and downs.”

Nevertheless, the signs of hope should not be misconstrued, there is still a long road ahead, and many children will need help in order to contend with the current crisis. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the parents surveyed (60%) voiced concerns about their children’s mental health.

When asked which mental health challenges raise the most cause for concern, parents cited anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. These concerns outweigh their concerns for other challenges by a wide margin.

A majority of parents surveyed (62%) said they experienced some mental health challenges of their own in the last year. Within these families, the research confirmed that there is a strong correlation between the mental health of parents and their children.

For example, among parents who said they are at least somewhat concerned for their child’s mental health, 75% said they experienced some mental health challenges of their own over the past year. And among parents who are not concerned for their child’s mental health, 41% experienced their own mental health issues over the past year.

When asked if they feel they have a strong support network, about half of the parents surveyed said they do. However, 47% said their support network is not strong or not as strong as they’d like.

The survey data showed that the overall impact of a parent’s mental health and the strength of a parent’s support network have a significant impact on many aspects of their child’s mental health.

The research confirmed that there was still a widespread mental health crisis among children in the U.S. at the start of the 2022-23 school year. While there are some positive signs that the crisis is beginning to stabilize, it’s important to remember that much work remains to be done. It will require a coordinated effort among all stakeholders to improve access to care for all children, recognize and support schools for the role they play, and better support and educate parents so they are empowered and confident in their ability to support the children in their care.

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