Students are experiencing anxiety and other mental health issues in record numbers, overwhelming the public school system. Christian educators and counselors are stepping in.
“Our faculty is not equipped to deal with the trauma our students experienced,” wrote Melissa Hernandez, a public school teacher at San Ysidro High School in California, in a recent op-ed.
“The numbers of students fighting on campus, self-medicating, struggling to adjust to socialization and experiencing anxiety have all increased — while academic motivation has decreased.”
However, Christian educators and parents are working together to give students the help they need – often in small settings, working directly within the communities they serve.
‘More teens needing help’
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that during the pandemic, more than 1 in 3 high school teens experienced poor mental health. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide.
“I’ve just overall seen more teens needing help and more parents that are just at a loss for how to help their kids,” Becca Blomker, a Christian counselor and founder of Redemption Kansas City, told The Lion. “More thoughts of self-harm, and suicidality, and more feelings of being alone and isolated.”
Blomker, who homeschools her younger children, said school lockdowns and closures during the COVID-19 pandemic helped contribute to the present crisis.
“The isolation of the pandemic drew out a lot of relational disconnect and lack of connection in families and other arenas of life that I think was already there, but it just became much more heightened,” she said.
Public schools have faced growing criticism over pandemic policies that delayed the return to in-person schooling. For example, a recent study found that youth in Washington state lost over five months of learning in math and about three months in reading from 2019 to 2022.
“The longer the schools were closed, they did see larger declines on average,” said Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research Faculty Director Thomas Kane.
In West Virginia, public school students also experienced significant learning losses, falling seven months behind on average between 2019 and 2022.
However, schools that opened earlier than others did a much better job slowing or preventing such declines in academic performance.
One example involves Catholic schools, which resumed in-school instruction nearly a full academic year sooner than their public and private school counterparts.
Recent results by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that Catholic students outperformed their public and charter school peers by wide margins.
The performance gap prompted Manhattan Institute adjunct fellow Kathleen Porter-Magee to note, “If Catholic schools were a state, they would be the highest-performing in the nation on all four NAEP tests.”
Lion writer Joe Herring credits the emphasis on in-person learning as one reason why Catholic schools did so well in helping students recover from the pandemic.
“Teaching is a hands-on endeavor if one wishes to achieve top results,” he wrote. “Screens cannot replace the attentiveness of an engaged professional dedicated to preparing their students for success.”
Blomker agrees, saying the shutdown of in-person learning was a huge deal for students.
“God designed us for relationship with one another,” she said. “There’s something beautiful in technology that it can maintain a measure of that, but nothing can replace that face-to-face, voice-to-voice, touch-to-touch, human sense of ‘I am with you, I see you.’ Technology really cannot replace that.”
Family and community impact
To address the mental health issues young people face, Blomker encourages parents to engage with their children regularly, cultivating an attitude of curiosity about any issues they’re facing.
This attitude can help encourage children to express their emotions and thoughts, she said, as they navigate a world that often feels unstable and unsafe.
“If your kids start to struggle and you start to engage then, you haven’t built that foundation of safety and trust,” Blomker said, emphasizing parents should not wait, but engage as soon as possible.
Community resources also can help families find support and encouragement. In one example, Ross County Christian Academy (RCCA) in Ohio tapped its local network to provide on-site counseling services to its students.
“That helps the classroom, that helps the student, that helps the teacher, that helps the parents,” said Valerie Jones, RCCA’s head of schools. “So we’ve seen the benefits of it already.”
Blomker also said biblical counseling can help parents build bridges between themselves and their children, so they can better understand their challenges and struggles.
“As parents, we have to do the work of being grounded in Christ, so that we don’t respond in fear to these really intense issues that our kids are facing,” she said. “We need to be able to walk with them through it, not become overwhelmed with fear of the fact that they’re facing it.”