The mental toll of the coronavirus pandemic is unfolding inside homes throughout California, as students, parents and teachers learn to deal with a new normal of social distancing and remote learning.
All of California’s four-year public universities and community colleges have shifted most in-person classes online, and nearly all of the state’s K-12 school districts have closed. Teachers across the state are scrambling to learn how to provide remote instruction. Already stressed-out parents have become homeschool teachers overnight. Meanwhile, students are coping with missing major milestones like commencements and SATs, while those in college are preparing to postpone plans for the future.
One release valve for pressures like these (that students might have used in the past) are school-based health clinics, which frequently offer mental health services. Tracy Mendez, executive director of the California School-Based Health Alliance, estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of the 277 school-based health clinics, which are usually available to roughly 300,000 students around the state, have been closed.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, district-operated medical and mental health clinics are closed. Staff were answering inquiries via email and text and also referring callers to outside resources, a spokeswoman said via email.
Mendez said she is hearing that staff at still-open clinics are trying to serve as many patients as possible via telehealth, for which the state is loosening billing rules. She also speculated that if the number of people who get sick from coronavirus overwhelms the medical system–that staff providing school-based services will probably be repurposed to handle the extra load, and that will leave even less capacity for students.