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Student mental health shows improvement in Methuen

Eagle-Tribune - 11/30/2023

Nov. 30—METHUEN — Student anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress has dramatically decreased during the past two years, according to the school district's mental health and behavioral services director.

Statistics from the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic showed Methuen Public School students expressing around 35 to 40% "prevalence" rates for anxiety, depression and trauma.

The new data presented at Monday's school committee meeting shows mental health improvement.

"This is a story of growth," said Director John Crocker. "We've seen a tremendous amount of growth over the past two years."

The data shows a decline of students experiencing "severe" mental health issues on any measure. There was a 25% decrease in students scoring in the "severe" range on at least one measure in fall 2023, compared to fall 2021, according to Crocker.

"When we're looking at a question that asked the students about thoughts that they would be better of dead or hurting themselves in some way, that question is being endorsed less over the past two years," Crocker said, adding that it is at a 26.4% reduction.

"We're seeing some markers of growth within the specific tools and then overall with these measures."

The high school received $50,000 for mental health services in the state budget announced this summer. as the district is working to reduce the mental health rates that dramatically rose during the pandemic.

Anxiety screening from the past nine years shows when the pandemic hit and then the district's ongoing work to address student mental health issues.

"We are showing growth on both ends," Crocker said.

Students experiencing severe anxiety decreased continuously after spiking in the 2020-21 school year, and those within the "no concern" category "are jumping up after significantly falling in that school year as well," according to Crocker.

Grades five through eight have shown stability throughout the past three years.

Crocker said mental health behaviors can vary month-to-month but the overall results are what the school district has been hoping for.

Mayor Neil Perry said the city as a whole has experienced "difficult times," adding that two out of every three calls to the police department is mental health-related.

One key point of interest is the about 20% difference between grade five's anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress "severe" and "moderate" levels, compared to the aggregate of grades six through eight.

"We have identified...a specific target in grade five to be able to provide some pretty specific interventions," Crocker said. "This is why this data is so important."

Crocker said he expects group and individual interventions to occur in grade five now throughout the district.

"That will provide some opportunity for some immediate care," Crocker said. "We will be targeting grade five as a key area of need, so we're going to put some services in place immediately on top of what we already have."

Cartwheel Care, which provides evidence-based mental health support from licensed clinicians, will be "pushed down" to kindergarten through grade eight as well, Crocker said. He said the mental health and behavioral services are going to "flood (students) with support."

Follow Monica on Twitter at @MonicaSager3

Follow Monica on Twitter at @MonicaSager3

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