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An Education Station wellness check on students back in the classroom

In honor of World Mental Health Day, 3News talks to local mental health experts about how students have been handling being back in school amid the pandemic.

CLEVELAND — This week, the globe observed World Mental Health Day, which is a perfect time for Education Station to check in with our students on how they're handling being back in school during COVID.

Northeast Ohio's mental health workers and school officials say children, overall, are happy to be back to the classroom this school year. However, it doesn't come without student anxiety.

"They weren't working extensively for 3-4 hours a day, but then suddenly [have] to go back into a brick and mortar school building for 6-8 hours a day" Akron Public Schools Psychologist Dr. Erich Merkle said. "We all got used to being at home with our immediate family."

The transition from primarily being around family and home-schooled for a year and a half to being around hundreds of students, faculty and staff again has been tough for many kids socially and academically. Some are dealing with anxiety about health and safety and, in some cases, grief.

"Dealing with potential loss or ongoing illness from COVID or other conditions or even, unfortunately, deaths in the family is something we see in students," Merkle explained. "Add to that being back in school."

According to research conducted, in part, by the CDC's COVID Response Team, one in 515 US children has lost a caregiver to COVID. That's more than 140,000 children, with nearly 70% being children of color.

"Certainly, if there’s been loss, there’s depression," Merkle told 3News.

"During the pandemic last year, we know that kids' mental health suffered across the board," Dr. Jane Timmons-Mitchell, associate clinical professor with Case Western Reserve University, added. Now this year, going back to school, for most kids, is, of course, a huge adjustment."

To help with that adjustment, in honor of World Mental Health Day this week, the Nationwide Children's Hospital launched a campaign to get mental health resources in 1-million classrooms across the country, including every classroom in Ohio. The transition back to the classroom may take some time to fully set in with many students, but experts say, overall, it’s been a welcomed change.

"For the majority of children, they are delighted to be back to school, even if they’re masking or have plexi-glass around them or whatever," says Case Western Reserve Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Eileen Anderson. 

"They’re happy to be back with friends. Kids crave structure," says Timmons-Mitchell.

Experts say it's important to remember that anxiety, emotional fatigue, and expressing fears of the unknown all are normal responses to abnormal circumstances. It could take well into the school year for children to fully adjust to being back to school.

"For K through 2nd graders, they have had the most unusual school experience. Think about it - the pandemic has been the majority of their academic life," says Merkle.

If you do notice any extreme changes in your child, or your child is having an unusually hard time adjusting to life back in the classroom, visit the National Children’s Hospital website for more on their On Our Sleeves mental health services for students.

More 'Education Station' coverage from January Keaton:

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