The Next Surge is Serious

Faith SandlerCOVID-19, Words of Faith

Given the title of this blog, the dispiriting post I wrote two weeks ago would never have worked. The piece was long and fraught with critique about what the world is doing to our students, through pandemic and polarization and the abandonment of education for the common good. When two editors suggested I tone it down, I redacted the outrage and the examples of wrongdoing and posted a more positive take, “Look for the Teachers” (click to read more).

But yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control released a study on the mental health of this nation’s teens in the midst and aftermath of pandemic, and the findings are devastating. Anxiety, depression, abuse, hopelessness, and suicidality plagues them at very high rates. The causes are not of their making: isolation, animosity, and fear of those in charge. These forces hit teens very hard, especially those whose families and schools struggle each day to survive. Those struggling are the very students The Scholarship Foundation seeks to reach and support with advising, awards, and advocacy.

At our February board meeting, nine student policy fellows presented the slate of issues they will address in their work together. Financial aid, tuition equity for undocumented students, economic and racial equity on campus were all familiar and ongoing parts of the policy agenda led by the fellows and the League of Student Advocates. This year, a new issue was unanimously adopted. All nine fellows are committed to changing the quality and quantity of mental health services provided college students on their campuses. They know first-hand how inadequately student mental health is now addressed.

At our March board meeting, we honored the memory of our student who died by suicide at the close of 2021. His was a story of accomplishment and meaning, though the struggles life presented him were many. We paused together to breathe – for him, for his family and community, for young people too afraid to breathe, and for a world desperately in need of the presence and leadership of young people.

Yesterday, the media was quick to tell the dispiriting story of the CDC findings. Teen and young adult mental health is possibly the next pandemic to surge. Headlines in yesterday’s major newspapers are heartbreaking: “Many Teens Report Emotional and Physical Abuse by Parents During Lockdown”  and  “A cry for help: CDC warns of a steep decline in teen mental health”. Just two months ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued his own stark warning.

Seeing the symptoms is not so hard. Finding equitable solutions is the real work. The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis is preparing to provide another level of meaningful support for students, referral to and funding for quality therapy. Our program staff has a weekly process group to address their own wellbeing as they work with students. We are back in community in person, at schools and partner agencies and in our offices face to face with young people. They suffered three academic years affected by pandemic and related economic fallout. We know that’s a long time in a young life, and recovery will take even longer.

In April when our board meets, we will review a newly constructed Case for Support and gift structure to be used in Scholarship Foundation fundraising in future years.  That document contains an invitation to current and prospective donors to invest in quality mental health services for young people who seek higher education and are without the financial means to reach their goals. Advising, grant and loan awards, and advocacy for students are our pillars; quality mental health services are essential to student success as well, all the more so now than ever before.

– Faith Sandler

To read more:

  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

  • New York Times:

  • Washington Post:

  • U.S. Surgeon General (via NPR):