'We have seen more requests for services': Montgomery County providers highlight importance of students' mental health in 2020-21 school year

According to Sherry Burkhard, executive director of the Magnolia-based mental health resource center Mosaics of Mercy, students entering the new school year can feel overwhelmed when dealing with the pressure of new classes, teachers and schedules in addition to the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
According to Sherry Burkhard, executive director of the Magnolia-based mental health resource center Mosaics of Mercy, students entering the new school year can feel overwhelmed when dealing with the pressure of new classes, teachers and schedules in addition to the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

According to Sherry Burkhard, executive director of the Magnolia-based mental health resource center Mosaics of Mercy, students entering the new school year can feel overwhelmed when dealing with the pressure of new classes, teachers and schedules in addition to the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Local counseling centers and experts said they expect to see an increase in demand for mental health services from school-age youth in the 2020-21 school year as students, educators and families learn to navigate a new world of covered faces and virtual classrooms.

According to Sherry Burkhard, executive director of the Magnolia-based mental health resource center
Mosaics of Mercy, many students can feel overwhelmed when dealing with the pressure of new classes, teachers and schedules amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“If [students] are already stressed because of what's going on with the pandemic and in their household and things like that, then you add in the school stress, I anticipate that we're going to continue to see an increase [in demand for mental health services],” Burkhard said.

In a previous interview with Community Impact Newspaper, Burkhard said she had seen the pandemic take a toll on mental health in the aftermath of surges in unemployment, losses of routine and feelings of isolation.

Although Montgomery County youth service provider and nonprofit Yes to Youth generally sees a decline in requests for counseling services during the summer months, Director of Counseling Services Adriana Gutierrez said there has been a recent uptick in clients seeking services as a result of stresses when entering the new school year.



“Within the last two weeks we have seen more requests for services coming,” Gutierrez said in an Aug. 27 email. “Most are seeking services for anxiety and depression related to isolation and or anxiety of school reopening.”

The nonprofit, which has an office in Magnolia, offers free counseling services for young people ages 6-17 and transitioned to provide telehealth alternatives for services at the pandemic's onset this spring, Gutierrez said.

Yes to Youth also initiated summer-long virtual groups such as Girls Talk, a virtual support group for girls in intermediate and secondary schools. Other virtual services include a skills group to help youth learn to manage anxiety and depression in addition to groups for parents and grandparents. Gutierrez said these groups have been paused but are slated to be offered again in September.

Anyone in need of immediate assistance is encouraged to call Yes To Youth’s 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 888-756-8682, she said.

“The hotline is answered by one of our counselors, and we are ready to assist with resource information and crisis intervention,” Gutierrez said.

Kim Huff-Howard, licensed professional counselor and owner of Tomball-area Counseling Creations, said her center has also seen the pandemic’s effect on clients who have already received prior treatment.

“[In] March everybody [said], 'Oh, it'll go away,' and then April hit and it hadn't gone away, and we started seeing an upsurge of anxiety adjustment, depression, suicidal ideation and things of that nature,” Huff-Howard said. “I've had clients that were off and learning on their own, doing great, that are suddenly coming back, and it's because of this new cherry on top of everything they're trying to handle.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six young people ages 6-17 in the U.S. experiences a mental health disorder every year, and half of all lifelong mental illnesses begin by age 14.

Despite these numbers, Neal Sarahan, NAMI Greater Houston Executive Director, said there is often a large gap between the onset of mental disorders and receiving treatment among individuals. For example, in 2016, 50.6% of people in the U.S. ages 6-17 with mental disorders received treatment.

“The time period between the first episode of serious mental illness and the treatment plan to begin is about 10 years,” Sarahan said. “So, our youth are waiting ... too long for evidence-based interventions to have their impact.”

Dana Spinler, a licensed professional counselor at Counseling Resource Center—which has offices in Magnolia and Conroe—suggested families help relieve students’ stress in small ways at home, such as by massaging areas where tension might build up in the body like the shoulders or back. In addition, Spinler said incorporating events or activities into students' schedules can help students establish clear routines to foster stability in an uncertain environment.

“[Try] to find ... an activity or an event and [set] it up in a way that it's something to look forward to; [make] some aspect of this [pandemic] have an end date ... so that it doesn't seem like things keep going and going and going,” Spinler said. “That's actually where trauma gets developed, is that you don't see an end in sight.”

Should students need additional support in maintaining mental health, however, Spinler advises families to seek professional assistance and counseling.

“[Look] at the emotional identity of the child, how it's changed, and seek counseling, because there can be a lot of things that can help in just a few sessions to get them back on track and know how to handle what's going on in their bodies,” Spinler said.

Oftentimes, students’ mental health can be affected by other sources, such as parents and educators.

“The adults in the students life—the educators [and] the parents—how they're modeling, how they have conversations, how they share their feelings—is sending a message to the kids about how to do that,” Burkhard said. “It's really important for educators and parents to be taking care of their own mental health so we're showing kids how to do that as well right now.”

Nonetheless, Burkhard emphasized educators and families to maintain a watchful eye on students and their mental health during the school year.

“It's really important for everyone ... to be on the lookout for kids that are struggling,” Burkhard said. “It really requires everyone that's coming in contact with that kid [to be attentive] because we all may be a little more distracted than usual.”

Additional resources:





MOST RECENT

Montgomery County Precinct 2 hosts a heavy-trash cleanup day for residents on March 13-14. (Courtesy Precinct 2)
Here's a list of things to do in Tomball, Magnolia this March

From spring break virtual events for kids to spring markets, a number of Tomball- and Magnolia-area organizations will be hosting events this March.

Houston City Hall in rainbow lighting
Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce celebrates five years of service

The organization is open to all and serves members throughout the Greater Houston area.

Montgomery County is set to receive its largest first-dose allocation during the week of March 1. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County set to receive largest vaccine allocation yet in first week of March

Nearly 20,000 vaccine doses were allocated to the county's two vaccine hubs and several additional providers for the week of March 1.

A coronavirus vaccine is given at Memorial Hermann's mass vaccine clinic Feb. 26. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Memorial Hermann closes out 2nd round of vaccines with 7,000 distributed among 2 clinics

The clinic will continue operations through 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27.

The new Fort Bend Epicenter multipurpose facility could be used as a spot for trade shows and sporting events, could act as a large-scale shelter for county residents in an emergency and more. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Large multipurpose complex coming to Fort Bend County; Sugar Land to widen University Blvd. and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Houston area.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

Large-format printing service provider SpeedPro Magnolia was named 2020 Business of the Year by the Greater Magnolia Parkway Chamber of Commerce. (Courtesy SpeedPro Magnolia)
Here's a roundup of the latest business news in Tomball, Magnolia

The Tomball and Magnolia area has seen a number of recent business openings in recent weeks.

Keith Luechtefeld spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about some of the short-term and long-term repercussions of the storm as well as some of the reasons why so many homes saw burst pipes during the freezing weather. (Community Impact staff)
Q&A: Greater Houston Builders Association President Keith Luechtefeld discusses power, plumbing, frozen pipes after Winter Storm Uri

Keith Luechtefeld spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about some of the short-term and long-term repercussions of the storm as well as some of the reasons why so many homes saw burst pipes during the freezing weather.

With the notice lifted, the city recommends residents to flush household pipes, ice makers and water fountains prior to use. (Courtesy Fotolia)
JUST IN: City of Magnolia boil water notice lifted as of 4 p.m. Feb. 25

City residents were put under a nine-day boil water notice after freezing temperatures and electricity outages caused the city's water plants to suffer a loss of water pressure.

Harris County ESD No. 11 commissioners met for a meeting Feb. 25. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County ESD No. 11 begins construction process on new facility

District offiicials have said they hope Phase 1 of construction will be complete by August.