The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of many Americans. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 53% of adults report their mental health has been negatively affected by COVID-19, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration received an 891% increase in calls to its “Disaster Distress Helpline.” The impacts extend to children as well. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains that changes of circumstances brought on by COVID-19 — such as isolation, economic hardship, unmet basic needs and greater exposure to violence and abuse at home — may result in trauma for some children.
While these changes can affect any child, transition-aged students with disabilities may be particularly at risk. A 2016 study surveyed 648 education and community professionals from 49 states. Survey participants indicated that nearly half of their transition-aged students with disabilities were experiencing some mental health concerns. While this study does not represent the full range of young adults with disabilities in the U.S., it does speak to the prevalence of mental health needs in the community.
COVID-19 may be placing additional strain and stress on students with disabilities and their families. A study from the Society for Research in Child Development’s “Child Development” journal finds that children with disabilities are psychologically vulnerable during disasters, due to “higher poverty rates, elevated risk exposure, greater vulnerability to traumatic loss or separation from caregivers, more strain on parents, and poor post-disaster outcomes.” It is therefore important that states consider the mental health needs that may arise for students with disabilities, particularly those who may have less access to school counselors, trusted adults and other mental health resources.
Many states recognize that mental health services are increasingly critical for students and young adults with disabilities. States are finding innovative ways to continue providing mental health support to students who are already receiving it and to help students cope with the additional effects of the pandemic.
Offering guidance to school mental health providers on providing tele-counseling services
The Wisconsin Student Services Prevention and Wellness Team is holding weekly “Community of Practice” Zoom calls to guide student service professionals — including school counselors, psychologists and social workers — on supporting student mental health during school closures.
Connecting students and parents to resources and services for coping with mental health issues during COVID-19
The Hawaii Department of Education also provides informational documents containing mental health resources for children with disabilities, including multiple hotlines for parents and children and a social-emotional learning curriculum.
Colorado developed resources focused on coping mechanisms for anxiety, depression and stress for students. The resources include social-emotional learning and trauma counseling for families and schools, as well as access to 10 free mindfulness classes for children through the Mindful Schools program.
The Florida Department of Education compiled a resource to provide educators and families more information about telehealth, mental health services and youth mental health awareness training to identify students who may have serious mental health needs.
Offering direct support services to youth with mental health needs and their families
New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services focuses on older teenagers and youth in transition, providing a helpline for emotional support during the COVID-19 pandemic. This helpline is available in English and Spanish and also in an accessible video format for the deaf. It also provides a 24/7 addiction hotline for youth and young adults with Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
The Maine branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) opened an emergency enrollment process for the Respite Program due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Respite Program offers 26 hours per month of in-home care to families of children with mental illnesses. Maine is also providing virtual phone support, child behavior management tips and education regarding a mental health diagnosis through Gaining Empowerment Allows Results (G.E.A.R).
National Center for Systematic Improvement Library: This library hosts various behavioral and social-emotional resources. Numerous resources respond to the COVID-19 pandemic including virtual counseling and distance learning for students with severe cognitive disabilities.
Tunnels & Cliffs: A Guide for Workforce Development Practitioners and Policymakers Serving Youth with Mental Health Needs: This resource, created by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth), is designed to help policymakers understand and improve service delivery systems for youth with mental health needs.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Select NCTSN Resources Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic provides a bank of resources to support the mental and emotional well-being of youth during the pandemic. The resources focus on topics like implementing trauma-informed learning environments, coping with post-disaster stress and adversity and talking to children about COVID-19.
COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit: The Resources Kit contains resources to help support parents, caregivers and other adults serving children and young people in recognizing children and young people’s social, emotional and mental health challenges and helping to ensure their well-being. Offers information and resources for specific age groups, from early childhood (0-5 years), childhood (6-12 years), adolescence (13-17 years) and young adults (18-24 years).
Support for Teens and Young Adults: CDC webpage offers information for teens and young adults to help manage stress related to COVID-19.
The Institute of Education Sciences developed a resource, Supporting Students Experiencing Trauma During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The website of the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP) contains resources to support youth and families during the COVID-19 outbreak on topics including childcare, education, employment, finances, food and nutrition, health/mental health, human services, safety and more.
Serious Emotional Disability, Social Emotional Learning, Mental Health & Behavior
Learning Supports for Students with Disabilities
Resources for Families of Students with Disabilities During COVID-19
Frequently Asked Questions for Parents of Students with Disabilities
Regarding School Year 2020-21
New Hampshire Grades K-12 Back-to-School Guidance
Social Emotional Learning
Behavioral Health Supports During COVID-19