Apparently, Attending School Prevents Mental Illness

There’s a huge US movement to get kids back in school because their mental health, among other areas, are suffering catastrophically; specifically, depression and anxiety are out-of-control.

Are kids and students all of a sudden going crazy?

If depression and anxiety were so genetically based then why have their rates increased so dramatically just since the Covid-19 pandemic began?

Are young peoples’ brains breaking down at an accelerated rate during the pandemic causing a massive increase in mental illness?

If a mental illness is due to a “broken brain” and bad “brain chemistry” then what is it about not going to school, in person, is causing the increase in mental illness?

Given the data, it appears “attending school, in person” is the cure for mental illness and specifically depression and anxiety?

However, we know that’s not true because we also know that attending school leads to a great deal of depression and anxiety.

Perhaps attending school is not only the problem but also the solution. How can that be?

Or, perhaps attending school not only attributes to the problem but also provides some kind of relief or distraction of that problem.

Or, perhaps we’re missing the point all together.

WebMD is supposed to be a reliable source for understanding illnesses, right? Afterall, it’s written and reviewed by medical doctors. Here’s what they post regarding the Causes of Depression. webmd.com-Depression

Let’s address them one-by-one:

1. Abuse — Is it possible that more kids are being abused at home because they’re not attending school and that’s why depression and anxiety (D&A) have increased? It’s true domestic violence has increased since the pandemic began but not at the rate of D&A. I doubt abuse is the cause.

2. Certain Medications — Does attending school protect against the adverse effects of medications? I doubt it.

3. Conflict — Is not attending school causing more conflict with family and friends? Given there is less interaction with anyone outside one’s family, and likely more family interaction, possibly, then perhaps this is causing more D&A. Is this plausible? I doubt it.

4. Death or Loss — Have students been losing loved ones at an increased rate and that’s leading to more depression? While it may be related to the pandemic it’s not likely to be related to not attending school. At the time of this article, there have been 468K deaths in the US and there are 56.4 million students (not including university). Let’s assume each death affects two kids so we’ll round up to 1 million kids impacted or 1.77%. That’s a far cry from the 31% increase in mental health issues for 12–17-years-olds and 24% increase for 5–11-year-olds (source). In short, death and loss are not likely to be attributing to the increase in mental health issues.

5. Genetics — Is it possible that not attending school has caused a massive amount of genetic expression to occur in the past year? I doubt it. Moreover, it would be nice to finally put to rest the idea that a person’s genes are the root issue for D&A and that epigenetics and a person’s environment have a far greater influence on how a gene is expressed.

6. Major Events — It’s true the pandemic and not attending school is a big deal and a “disruption of normal” but even WebMD states that clinical depression is not a “normal” response to such an event. Therefore, this “cause” does not apply either.

7. Other personal problems such as isolation due to mental illness or being cast out of your family or social group — Ok, now we may be making progress. However, attending or not attending school is not a mental illness (that I’m aware of). And, I have a hard time believing this many kids have been “cast out” of their family or social group in the past year. Granted, students may not be interacting with their peers as much but I do not believe they’ve been exiled. Therefore, the catch all of “other problems” may be a nice attempt to explain the problem but I believe it falls well short.

8. Serious Illness — While contracting Covid-19 can definitely constitute a “serious illness”, according to the data, the increase in those kids experiencing mental illnesses does not appear to coincide with contracting the virus and there has not been a significant increase in other serious illnesses over the past year. Moreover, not attending school does not cause a serious illness which can depress a person. This explanation does not work.

9. Substance Abuse — Similar to serious illness, while substance use has increased during the pandemic, there does not appear to be any link between those who are now experiencing D&A are also abusing substances. The reality is substance abuse, just like depression, are both symptoms of the same underlying root issue and are not the problem in and of themselves. I’ll save that discussion for another article. For this purpose, kids aren’t using more drugs and alcohol which is causing their depression since the pandemic began and attending school, in person, stopped.

Unfortunately, it appears quite clear the “experts” at WebMD do not understand the cause(s) of D&A because not one of the nine identified causes explain why so many students, i.e. children, are suffering, at a catastrophically alarming rate, with mental illness and specifically D&A since the Covid-19 pandemic began and schools ceased to allow students to attend, in-person. And virtual learning is apparently a dismal substitute for learning curriculum, much less nurturing relationships, especially given current methods and approaches. (Of course, online universities have been a huge success in the past 10 years so is it really just an age issue or are there other elements to consider?)

What is painfully clear is children need social interaction and connection. And while in-person, face-to-face, or verbal engagement is not a requirement it does appear to make the activity easier. There is a lot more I can say on the topic of human connection but I’ll save that for another time. Still, these methods do not solve the connection or D&A problem because both have been a serious problem since long before the pandemic.

For now, what I believe is the key point is that a lack of quality, authentic human connection is a critical, if not primary, cause of D&A and this realization is overwhelmingly evident based on the massive increase in these health conditions since in-person schooling stopped around March 2020.

Further, human connection is not “mentally” rooted but rather has its foundation in “emotionally” relating to or bonding with another person. (Yes, it’s true cognitive and emotional elements are both managed by the brain but so is heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and many other physical aspects of existence yet we don’t call an ailment such as high blood pressure a mental illness.) Therefore, when this ability to bond or connect with another person is compromised or taken away, the person is left to find some way to compensate and manage their world, or not, as best they can.

In short, kids are not suddenly going crazy. Their brain is not broken. Their brain chemistry did not spontaneously go awry in less than a year but rather it shifted away from “normal” due to a lack of emotional connection. Kids are not weak, lack resilience, or proper “tools to manage their headspace”. They’re simply in emotional pain and just attending school, in-person, is not going to magically solve the problem even if it does help some which I believe it will.

So, if a lack of authentic emotional connection with others can result in such a fast and skyrocketing increase in D&A then perhaps these problems are not mental but rather emotional. Perhaps these and other “mental health” problems are not a failing of the brain to operate “normally” but rather a normal response to a person’s emotional state (how they feel rather than how they think) that is suffering and in pain.

Perhaps if we change how we think about the problem, especially the myriad of problems that are currently considered to be “mental health” related, and instead consider the possibility that what is actually occurring is a person’s compensatory response to an emotional pain, then maybe, finally, we can start solving the actual problem instead of attempting, poorly, to manage the symptoms (i.e., behaviors).

Frankly, modern psychology has been around for nearly 150 years… how’s that been working out for us? How is that helping humanity today? How is that helping our children during these exceptional times in human history?

Whether kids go back to in-person school now or in the future, the problems of depression and anxiety, among other destructive behaviors, remains and existed long before the Covid-19 pandemic. At best, attending school in-person may help mitigate some of the detrimental responses but the reality is these and many other destructive behaviors have been on the rise for decades, if not centuries.

The pandemic merely shed a brighter light on an already failing industry and system, namely “mental health” and education. It’s time for a paradigm shift from mental to emotional; there is a difference.

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Kevin Strauss

Kevin Strauss

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Fan of the "rabbit hole"… how far will I go? KevinRStrauss.com - balanced wellness, emotional health, endurance sports & more