YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Right now, the American Academy of Pediatrics says children and teenagers are in a mental health national emergency.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, mental health was already a growing concern for kids and young adults. Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24.
However, one initiative making its way into several York County schools is looking to remedy the on-going issue.
The "P.A.U.S.E." (Peers Advocating for Ur Success Everyday) program, launched by the National Alliance on Mental Illness York-Adams Counties, is a facilitated mutual peer-to-peer self-help group, allowing students to meet several times a week and have open discussions.
Spring Grove High School is one of three participating schools so far.
Students and program officials allowed FOX43 to sit in on one of their meetings to talk to them about the growing mental health crisis, and how P.A.U.S.E. is helping them.
"General anxiety," said Jayden, a Spring Grove Freshman when asked about what the biggest mental health issues students face are now. "We weren’t here for two years don’t understand all the things I’m supposed too, because I was in quarantine."
Many of the students in the group talked about the lasting effects of the COVID pandemic. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics shows that the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms during COVID doubled, compared to pre-pandemic estimates.
"I was in eighth grade when COVID hit, and they didn't give any knowledge of it ahead of time. It felt like they were like 'clean out your lockers, bye.' And school was a way for me to get away from certain situations, and a way to be able to talk to my friends," said Dejah, a now-high school sophomore. "it was almost like once you got so used to being alone in quarantine, they were like 'you're going back to school next year.' So, it took a while to adjust to quarantine, and then all of a sudden you had to adjust to school," Dejah added.
When asked how the program has helped students since coming into the school through the last year, there was nothing but positive responses.
"It's comforting to know... like a lot of people say 'you're not alone', but it helps having a group where you can go in person and see you're not alone," said Dejah.
"Even if you don't say anything at these meetings, you know there are a lot of people going through the same stuff as you," added Jayden.
At Spring Grove, meetings take place multiple times a week in both the high school and middle school.
By the fall of this year, the P.A.U.S.E. program will be in seven York County schools.
Leaders with NAMI York-Adams Counties say students are spreading the group by word of mouth, and they hope to continue to expand to more schools.