As we have done with the virus, we must treat very seriously all health consequences of our decisions. We are accepting the closure of schools because we believe it will keep our children safer. But the data tell us we may be very wrong about that.
The 24/7 media coverage of the virus has heightened our collective awareness and singular focus. But I take it as a personal and professional responsibility to warn all parents that your children are not immune to mental illness and drug use. We know these increase with social isolation. In many ways, the school system and its existence is our best fight against more families’ experiencing the unimaginable loss of a child to suicide.
The return of children to school and regular social interaction is the mental health epidemic’s mask and six-foot social distancing. It’s our main tool to protect our children’s mental health and well-being. If the primary goal is to keep our children safe, and I believe it is, let’s look at all of the risks and do our best to protect the most precious gifts we have among us-our children.
Elinore McCance-Katz is assistant secretary of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is part of the of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.