Cabarrus County Schools increases focus on students’ mental health after pandemic

CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a need for more mental health support for kids and teenagers, and Cabarrus County Schools has an action plan with a bigger focus on helping students.

It’s likely hard to visualize what life was like before the pandemic, but the last two years have been especially life-altering for students.

“We had a whole lot in our lives that could create anxiety or depression, and some of our students, they don’t live in the healthiest of homes, there are things that go on in people’s lives that are really hard,” said Amy Jewell, the director of student and family support with Cabarrus County Schools. “During the pandemic, when students could be isolated in those environments that we see exacerbate some of these problems, they come out, they come back to school after that and it sort of compounded. We have compounded trauma.”

There are about 150 counselors, social workers, and psychologists serving in the county’s 45 school campuses. Jewell oversees the district’s 31 social workers, and she says they’ve realized they’re responding to student needs in a whole new way.

“I would say that our level of crisis response has significantly increased,” Jewell said. “We’re seeing our students not really knowing how to effectively problem solve or navigate healthy relationships.”

Back in May, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services released a report on child behavioral health across North Carolina. Among the concerning data was a 46 percent increase in youth with one or more major depressive episodes during the pandemic.

“We are seeing heightened levels of, symptoms of depression and anxiety that are a result of a much higher level student crisis, even suicidal ideation, and self-injury,” Jewell said.

In Cabarrus County Schools, Jewell says the focus is on helping students regain what they lost during the pandemic, and not just from an academic standpoint.

“We have now a core curriculum, kindergarten through 12th grade which focuses on building character strengths and healthy relationships,” Jewell said. “Little by little, month by month, increment by increment we’re getting better and our kids are back and when they’re back in the building we can help them.”

The district is also leaning heavily on 17 partnerships with community agencies. Jewell says those groups are helping them address students’ social and emotional struggles even quicker.

(WATCH BELOW: Here’s how CMS is ensuring students have mental health resources they need)

Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.