Students heading back to the classroom after a year and a half of remote learning are facing a mental health crisis. A recent survey by Mental Health America found 54% of 11 to 17 year olds reported frequent suicidal thoughts or self-harm in the previous two weeks — the highest rate since it began screening in 2014.
"If kids don't have their mental health in check, those academics are going to — it's going to be like a toilet bowl," said Jaclyn Friedman-Lombardo, director of counseling and psychological services at Montclair State University.
For those who are struggling, "mental health isn't always about seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist," Friedman-Lombardo said. "Sometimes it's about becoming involved in your community. It's about making those connections, feeling that you belong."
This summer at New Jersey's Montclair State University, 16-year-old Katherine Chiqui Zumba learned techniques to reduce stress and how to focus on mental wellness. On top of her remote high school classes, she worked at her family's daycare center. But as pressure and isolation took a toll, she kept quiet.
"A lot of kids, they don't want to address it or are scared to address it," Zumba said. "I'd always fake a smile."
She said she was "not really depressed, but mostly sad all the time."
Even before starting her junior year of high school, Zumba already learned a lifelong lesson. "There is going to be issues in life. The real thing that you got to focus on is just, you know, how you handle it," she said.
For mental health resources, visit MHANational.org.