• Ellen Eldridge, senior health care reporter, Georgia Public Broadcasting
  • Jessi Gold, assistant professor, department of psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis
  • Na’Im Madyun, experienced educator, Prince George’s County Public Schools
  • Rhitu Chatterjee, health correspondent, NPR

By Antonia Gonzales

Panelists on the session “Covering school-based mental and behavioral health: Lessons from the pandemic” asked the question — what is being done for students with increased anxiety?

Ellen Eldridge, senior health care reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting, opened up the session. Eldridge discussed some of her own reporting on the topic, “suicide is already a leading cause of death in Georgia.”

Eldridge said Georgia has enacted some policies to help address mental health among young people, including the Mental Health Parity Act required by federal law, which requires insurance coverage for mental health conditions.

Na’lm Madyun, an experienced educator with Prince George’s County Public Schools, said “underling depression and anxiety is in our bodies and we don’t know, and (we don’t know) why?”

Madyun said addressing mental health in schools should include finding ways to help educators. “Self-care for educators … we hold a lot and we don’t take care of our self,” Madyun said. “We look for things that are quick, fast, and manage our times and displace things.”

Rhitu Chatterjee, health correspondent for NPR, said in 2018 they started a beat and it is now taken on a new dimension and emergency. “We’re finally forced to acknowledge and confront how vast the situation has become for kids,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee said she talked to mental health providers and found that there were a number of kids showing up to emergency rooms for mental health care. “They’d come to be treated and were sent home,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee added that more work needs to be done for students and teachers. Educators were expressing that they are educators and not mental health providers, “now schools recognize the mental health (needs) of kids, and that kids spend half their day there,” she explained.

Jessi Gold, M.D., assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis sees students and faculty. “I see both sides,” Dr. Gold said. Gold said college students are often not talked about, and had their worlds turned upside during the pandemic having to stay home and not being able to socialize.

“College mental health was a big thing before, then have a pandemic, it makes it even worse,” Gold said. Their sleep and concentration were impacted by the pandemic. They also had feelings of loneliness and missed experiences.

The panel continued the discussion focusing on counselors, which they said carry a heavy load. They also talked about funding and the need for resources.

After the session, moderator Eldridge, commented on the importance of journalists covering mental health of students, “everything in my mind comes from prevention — we need the safety-net, kids are spending eight hours a day in school.”

Eldridge’s advice to journalists, “keep digging, avoid buzzwords, public health shouldn’t be political. Kids are our future.”

Antonia Gonzales (Navajo Nation) is the managing news editor for Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. Gonzales was a 2023 AHCJ ethnic health media fellow.