Emotional Abuse Among Mental Health Triggers In Children Amid COVID-19 Pandemic: CDC

high school students
High school freshmen and sophomore students at Concordia High School using Apple iPads in the world geography classroom at the private religious school outside Austin, Texas. Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic did not just bring a deadly viral disease. It also caused mental health issues to rise, with more than half of U.S. high school students admitting that they experienced emotional abuse while confined inside their homes. 

Mental Health Triggers In High School Students

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report Thursday detailing the different mental health threats that high school students have been dealing with since the global health crisis started. Based on the collected data by the public health agency, more than half, or about 55%, experienced emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in their homes in 2021. 

According to the public- and private-school students who responded to the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES), the emotional abuse was mostly triggered by being sworn at, insulted and put down. 

About 11% of the respondents complained about suffering physical abuse at the hands of either their parents or other adults in their homes. They reported being hit, beaten, kicked and physically attacked during the period. 

Aside from the emotional and physical triggers, 44% of the students reported feeling sad or hopeless in the previous year. More than 29% of them said that a parent or another adult in their household lost a job amid the pandemic. 

Among the respondents, those who identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community recorded greater levels of poor mental health as they experienced greater emotional abuse and even contemplated suicide. 

For CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry, MD, MPH, the figures are very alarming since the mental well-being of the students can worsen as the pandemic continues. 

“These data echo a cry for help. The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental wellbeing. Our research shows that surrounding youth with the proper support can reverse these trends and help our youth now and in the future,” Houry said.

Importance of School Connectedness

The CDC highlighted the importance of “school connectedness” in its report, saying that having a sense of being cared for, supported and belonging at school had a positive effect on the students. Comparing the figures, there were big differences between the youths who experienced the support of their peers and the adults at school and those who did not. 

Only 35% of those who had school connectedness reported feeling sad and hopeless last year compared to the 53% of those who didn’t have support from their peers and the adults at school. Unfortunately, less than 47% of the surveyed population reported having that sense of support from other people at school during the pandemic.  

“School connectedness is a key to addressing youth adversities at all times – especially during times of severe disruptions. Students need our support now more than ever, whether by making sure that their schools are inclusive and safe or by providing opportunities to engage in their communities and be mentored by supportive adults,” Kathleen A. Ethier, PhD, the director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said. 

The CDC noted that it’s important to determine if students are struggling with mental health problems even during the time of COVID-19 to ensure that they are getting the support they need. Not only will this help them with their decision-making, well-being and grades, but it could also lower their risk for drug use, violence engagement, and risky sexual behaviors.  

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