On October 27, 2021, the Wellesley Centers for Women hosted “Supporting Adolescent Mental Health in the ‘New Normal,’” a virtual Social Change Dialogue on how educators, parents, and school communities can come together to support mental health for middle school and high school students.

Panelists included WCW Postdoctoral Research Scientist Katherine R. Buchholz, Ph.D., WCW Senior Research Scientist and Project Director Tracy R.G. Gladstone, Ph.D., Principal David Jordan, Ed.D., of Robert Adams Middle School in Holliston, MA, and School Psychologist Deanna Kanavas-DeRocher, Ed.S., LMHC, of Natick High School in Natick, MA. The conversation was moderated by WCW Executive Director Layli Maparyan, Ph.D.

Nearly all adolescents have been affected by the stress, fear, grief, and uncertainty of the pandemic. With a new school year underway, tweens and teens are grappling with their “new normal,” as they navigate what it means to be back at school in person after, for some, many months of virtual learning.

“Kids are pretty happy to be back,” said Jordan. “But I think students are struggling with the endurance and the pace of a typical school day. It’s been a couple years since they’ve been back to school—a typical school day, a typical school week.”

During this time of transition, some adolescents may be more at risk for mental health concerns, and school communities can be valuable resources in connecting tweens and teens to the support they need.

“We are in an adjustment period,” said Buchholz. “So this is the time to be aware and to keep an eye on kids. As things get more and more ‘normal,’ are we seeing kids return to what we consider their baseline? If you're concerned, now is a good time to check in with your pediatrician or with the school.”

The panelists shared insights from an innovative school/research partnership that screens students for depression and anxiety, and reflected on how the partnership has enhanced their school community’s awareness of and approach to mental wellbeing for all students.

“It catches some kids who we had no idea that they were struggling in that way,” said Kanavas-DeRocher. “So it's been really crucial in certain circumstances and it's really helped to educate the school community—and that includes students, parents, and staff.”

The panelists also noted that the mental health crisis among adolescents predated the pandemic, though the pandemic has brought heightened attention to it.

“This new media attention on the crisis in youth mental health gives us a really important opportunity to make some changes that are long overdue,” said Gladstone. “I’m hoping we can turn this new recognition into positive change.”

October 27, 2021

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