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Safeguarding Children’s Mental Health Through a Global Pandemic

This month marks a year since the coronavirus pandemic transformed the world around us and our work at the Child Mind Institute. As the crisis forced much of the United States to shut down last March, we pivoted across all program areas to continue to serve children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders, as well as all families experiencing greater anxiety and stress. Below, we reflect on how our clinicians, researchers and staff have shown resilience and innovation in the face of uncertainty, to the benefit of young people.

Clinical Care: Expanding Our Reach 

To maintain the health and safety of all patients and staff, we closed our offices temporarily in March 2020 and transitioned all existing patients from in-person services to telehealth in just 48 hours. Due to the loosening of licensure restrictions, our clinicians were able to treat young people from out of state, significantly expanding our reach.  Through telehealth, our clinical center has increased total appointments in 2020 by 29% compared to 2019.

Our clinicians began hosting free Facebook Live discussions in English and Spanish on managing mental health during the pandemic, reaching over 3 million people. Recognizing the strain on frontline workers and their families, the Child Mind Institute partnered with NYC Health + Hospitals, the NYPD and the Fairfield Police Department to establish a series of English- and Spanish-language support lines where healthcare workers and police officers who are also caregivers could connect to our clinicians for mental health support. 

School and Community ProgramsResponding to Students’ Needs 

As schools nation-wide adjusted to remote learning, the School and Community Programs team began delivering all our existing mental health supports and services virtually.  

For the first time, we held summer student groups focused on social-emotional skill-building and managing grief and loss. To better engage Spanish-speaking families, our clinicians began offering Spanish-language Behavioral and Emotional Skills Training (BEST) for parents, as well as parent talks on our most popular topics. 

In the fall of 2020, the School and Community Programs team partnered with the New York City Department of Education and a consortium of funders to make resources available to 75,000 educators to help them respond to students’ mental health needs, with a focus on trauma, depression, anxiety, and grief. Since last March, our school programs have reached 8,530 students, parents, educators and mental health providers in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Public EducationSharing Critical Information 

At the beginning of the pandemic visitors to childmind.org surged, with up to 1.8 million people a month seeking reliable information on children’s mental health. Our public education team created and shared a bilingual suite of digital resources to help families and educators cope with the pandemic. Amid protests against police brutality and racism, we provided information to help adults talk to kids about race, racism and the news. 

During May, for Mental Health Awareness Month, the Child Mind Institute launched the #WeThriveInside public education campaign and engaged a range of public figures including Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jonah Hill and Kevin Love to share short home videos on maintaining positive mental health during quarantine.  The campaign reached 275 million people on social media, driving an important conversation about mental health.  

Scientific Research: Investigating the Mental Health Effects of the Pandemic 

Throughout 2020, our researchers launched several new initiatives responding to the pandemic. Through the Coronavirus Health and Impact Survey (CRISIS), which examines risk factors for negative mental health outcomes for children and adults during the pandemic, we are gathering data to inform more effective interventions, now and for future crises. Our researchers are part of a team that was recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) with a prestigious Director’s Award for development of the CRISIS. Building on this initiative, Autism Center researchers developed the CRISIS AFAR survey to assess the impact of the loss of in-person services for children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder during the pandemic.  

Financial services company Morgan Stanley is supporting a study on how increased reliance on technology during the pandemic has impacted problematic internet use in young people. Their funding also supports longitudinal testing of the CRISIS. 

While the mental health crisis that has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, we are proud of all that we have achieved for children and families in the last year. All our work is made possible by our generous donor community. On behalf of the children and families who have received resources, support or treatment from the Child Mind Institute in a time of need, we thank you deeply. 

Read more about our impact here.