(WFRV) – As adults continue to work to find the best solutions for reopening schools, children face the fears a global pandemic can cause. Mental health challenges already affect many young people. According to Amy Arndt, a parent peer specialist with Wisconsin Family Ties, one in five adolescents suffers from mental illness.

Clinical Psychologist Krystal Lewis with the National Institute of Mental Health warns that the number of unwell children is likely to climb before the pandemic is over.

For younger children, the weight of the unknown is a major source of stress. No one has faced a pandemic as widespread as COVID-19, and Wisconsin’s Amy Arndt says that preparing a child for such a frightening reality is hard.

“We just didn’t know what it was, or what would happen next,” Arndt said. “Kids are looking to us as parents, as educators, and as mental health experts for answers we don’t have. For a lot of younger kids, they just don’t know what a pandemic is.”

Tim Peerenboom, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction School Psychology consultant, says mental health experts have limited contact with at-risk children due to the pandemic. That makes it difficult to navigate patients’ feelings and assess their needs.

“While parents are certainly really important partners in the education of students, they are not educators,” Peerenboom said. “And, for the most part, are certainly not mental health experts.”

Arndt says for some kids, being stuck at home is a nightmare.

“A lot of the children who experience mental health issues are already possibly in an abusive situation in their home,” she said. “Their only escape was going to school and getting out with their service providers. Now they’re completely isolated.”

That’s why Peerenboom says it’s important for educators and other responsible adults to keep in close contact with children in crisis, to not only spot the signs of abuse, but also to let kids know the resources that are available to protect them.

While not every school has decided whether or not they’ll meet in person on September 1, Peerenboom says it’s important for educators to make sure the children’s mental health and safety is priority number one.

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