Mental health challenges in students due to the COVID-19 pandemic are insurmountable. On October 19th, 2021, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association which collectively represent over 77,000 physicians and over two hundred children’s hospitals, declared a national emergency (Deliso, 2021). This group collectively called on policymakers to address the crisis and bring awareness to the high rise in families seeking mental health help for their children. The increase in mental health-related visits is nationwide children’s hospitals have seen a 45% increase in suicide and self-injury cases in five to 17-year-olds in 2019 (Deliso, 2021). According to Amy Winfrey night, the CDC found a staggering 50.6% increase in suicide attempts (Deliso, 2021).
The national emergency rang as the US Department of Education released a new resource supporting child mental and social needs through the $122 billion pandemic relief funding available to state and local education leaders (Deliso, 2021). U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona shared his sentiment in a statement, “Amid the pandemic, we know that our students have experienced so much. We cannot unlock students’ potential unless we also address the needs they bring with them to the classroom each day. As educators, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we are helping to provide students with a strong social and emotional foundation so that they also can excel academically.”
In this event, the role of public relations is to inform policymakers and the public that there is a national emergency in children’s mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association have joined forces to alert the nation of the dire need for more funding to raise awareness to ensure students’ mental health needs are met. The timing of this event was perfect as it came as the US Department of Education released resources that were shared to help schools support student mental health.
The Situational Crisis Communications Theory can be applied to this event because the focus is on the victims of COVID-19, the youth in America. Coombs states (2021)it is good to use this theory in a national crisis. The public relations practice reflected this model in that this announcement is a way for the three groups to alert the media and frame the communications to affect the policymakers. They remove attribution of responsibility amongst themselves. Coombs argues (2021) that framing a problem as a crisis changes how the organization responds. When a problem is defined as a crisis, the organization spends more resources (2021). The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association are practicing honest communication by using framing, which is an excellent way to explain the developments in this situation the youth are in trouble. They are victims of the COVID-19 mental health crisis arising in action that needs to be taken at once. This event also highlighted other victims such as parents, doctors, teachers, and caretakers limited due to the lack of resources. SCCT is used in media framings such as national emergencies or as a strategic way for the stakeholders to attribute responsibility to the government.
I recommend connecting the information with a few personal stories to make it more emotionally contagious. The facts and numbers are staggering; however, to hear individual stories, even anonymous, would heighten the level of reactions from the public to create perhaps a more extensive conversation and more outrage to push this crisis to a more comprehensive overall solution-oriented discussion.
Coombs, W. (2021). A social struggle against covid-19, crisis communication during the pandemic: Trust and proximity of Italian public healthcare sector administrations. SOCIOLOGIA DELLA COMUNICAZIONE, (61), 990–1001. https://doi.org/10.3280/sc2021-061009
Deliso, M. (2021, October 19). Children’s mental health crisis a ‘national emergency,’ pediatric groups declare. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/childrens-mental-health-crisis-national-emergency-pediatric-groups/story?id=80668548