Study shows increase in anxiety, depression in California schoolkids among biggest in US

"We have drought, we have fire, we have incredible cost of living," Dr. Plante said, "in some respects, that's the metamessage."

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Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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Beyond the school supplies, mental health experts warn an increasing number of kids carry weight of extra anxiety and depression as school returns.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Kids around the Bay Area are gearing up to go back to school. Beyond school supplies, local mental health experts warn an increasing number of children may also be carrying the weight of added anxiety and depression.

While the first day of school typically comes with an expected level of excitement, anxiety, and stress for students, experts are finding children between the ages of three and 17 are feeling so much more.

"When it comes to anxiety, depression, suicidality -- it's not a pretty picture," Santa Clara University Psychology professor Dr. Thomas Plante told ABC7 News.

Beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, students are navigating limited in-school resources, COVID-19, active shooter trainings and everything in between.

Dr. Plante said even stressors that may impact adults have the potential to trickle down to children.

RELATED: Teen mental health: CDC report reveals disturbing pandemic-related trends

"We have drought, we have fire, we have incredible cost of living," Dr. Plante detailed. "Other parts of the country may not have some of those issues, but it's bad everywhere."

He continued, "I think that in some respects, that's the meta message."

A message that was reflected in a study by national child welfare advocacy group, the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

It found California kids experienced the second largest increase in depression and anxiety compared to other states, specifically between 2016 and 2020. It reported a 70% spike, in that time.

"I'm not surprised to hear it," Cal State East Bay's Public Health Department chair, Dr. Arnab Mukherjea said. "I also would venture to guess it is an underestimate."

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Dr. Mukherjea warned the problem is not going away anytime soon, as he pushed for critical mental health services for youth especially.

He said, "We really need to focus on this from a public policy level on, 'How do we put the infrastructure in place to deal with this?'"

Dr. Plante added, "The anxiety, depression, suicidality and so forth, numbers are kind of through the roof. It's really worrisome, not only because of the problem that we have here, but it's also about what kinds of resources- or lack of resources- are available once these kids get back into mainstream school."

At the Bay Area's Child Mind Institute, Dr. Michael Enenbach shared one of the greatest lessons learned from the pandemic- something he called a silver lining.

"We've opened up this communication channel," Dr. Enenbach explained. "That it's okay to talk to someone, it's okay to have someone on your side. It's okay. It's been positive for so many people."

WATCH: Bay Area students start 'Peptoc Hotline' to cheer up others, spread goodwill

As kids enter the new school year, doctors encourage people make open communication a priority for our personal lesson plans.

"That's what I say to my kids," Dr. Mukherjea shared. "They're like, 'Well, you're a public health professor, don't you know what's gonna happen next?' I'm like, 'Listen sweetie, I have no idea what happens next. But I do know that we will get through it because we've gotten through the worst of some pretty bad instances.'"

Dr. Plante explained that throughout history, there has always been some big stressors.

"We have some unique ones today," he said. "But, you know, it's rare to go through periods of life where everything's just kind of hunky dory."

He suggested, "During the remaining part of August and into September, we all probably want to be a little bit vigilant around mental health issues around kids and families, and just be prepared, and try to be ready to deal with them so that we're not broadsided."

Mukherjea detailed, "Even though most students are returning back to school, the physical school place is still a different world- a social world- than what it was even a year ago. So we as parents, myself, as a professor, we have to be very acutely attuned to picking up on things that we normally would just sort of let go."

For more resources on mental health issues, visit here.

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