NJ school nurses on the front lines of a mental health crisis
As New Jersey kids head back to class this week, school nurses will be busier than ever attending to children who are sick as well as nervous, depressed, anxiety-ridden and even suicidal.
According to Robin Cogan, a clinical coordinator of the school nurse program at Rutgers University School of Nursing in Camden, as well as a school nurse in South Jersey, there has been a mental health crisis building for years among children.
She said prior to the pandemic, “school nurses spent up to 34% of our time on mental health issues, so since COVID we know that number has escalated.”
She said kids these days are dealing with a tsunami of problems including “stress, isolation, family dysfunction, how our lives have been disrupted, and so this is what we’re seeing in school, and it manifests itself in many ways."
She noted data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates more than a third of all high school students now report feelings of depression in their daily lives.
What is stressing out children
Cogan said part of the problem is anxiety from COVID “and then you add gun violence and school gun violence and active shooter drills."
She said school nurses are not offering kids therapy services but “one of the things we are best at is care coordination, so helping our students and families connect to care, that’s certainly a big role of what school nurses do.”
“We are not doing one-on-one counseling but we’re certainly helping a child or an adolescent regulate, finding ways for them to return to a place of calmness," she said. “School nurses offices are that soft space and safe space to land in schools, you know we’re not giving grades, we really are there for the well-being of each child.”
She said school nurses often are that person a child can turn to when they are in crisis.
Student mental health has to be prioritized
“Disregulated children, children who come to school upset, angry, worried, concerned, they’re not going to be able to learn,” she said.
Cogan added we are now in a crisis because there’s a shortage not only of mental health professionals but of guidance counselors, school psychologists and social workers as well as school nurses.
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