Student mental health challenged by COVID, recession and racism

Idle busses and empty classrooms are reminders of the scale of the education and healthcare void caused by the continued coronavirus shutdown.


Student mental health in Los Angeles is facing unprecedented challenges, according to Maryjane Puffer, executive director of The Los Angeles Trust for Children’s Health.

“Our students are under tremendous pressure,” she said. “Many were already dealing with inadequate access to mental healthcare and the impacts of poverty and racism. The isolation and economic hardships brought on by COVID-19 threaten to create a student mental health crisis in Los Angeles.

“Students miss the structure of school, their friends and their support system, including access to counseling and mental health treatment,” said Puffer. “Some students may be in stressful situations at home or even the targets of abuse. We must redouble our efforts to help them.”

New initiative

This fall The L.A. Trust will launch its School-Based Mental Health Education & Awareness Program. The initiative is funded by a $100,000 grant by Cedars-Sinai and a $50,000 grant by Health Net.

The initiative will train students as peer leaders through The L.A. Trust’s Student Advisory Boards, increasing awareness of symptoms like anxiety and depression, and building positive coping mechanisms and self-referrals to care. The initiative will foster student social media campaigns and conduct online trainings such as “First Aid for Mental Health,” scheduled for August.

“Student voices are critical in addressing mental health awareness and to ensure access to services,” said Pia V. Escudero, executive director of  Student Health & Human Services for Los Angeles Unified. “We are grateful for this grant opportunity that will lift stigma and access to services for students and families that need it the most.”

Puffer added that “as a backbone agency for student health in Los Angeles, The L.A. Trust has a unique role and responsibility. We are committed to lead on this issue, helping support students, family members, healthcare providers and LAUSD tackle these issues.”

Racism and mental health

Puffer noted that July is BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month and that racism must be factored into any discussion of student mental health. This is especially relevant in Los Angeles, where four out of every five LAUSD students is Latinx or Black.

A review of literature on the impact of racism on child health found that 11 out of 12 studies showed an association between racism and depression, while three studies showed an association between racism and anxiety. “We can’t ignore the impact of racism on the mental health of our students,” Puffer said. “Our programs, outreach and training must acknowledge the racism that many of our students live with every day.”

Resources available

Puffer saluted LAUSD Student Health and Human Services, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and other public and private organizations for adapting and expanding to serve students and family members during the COVID-19 crisis.

LAUSD Mental Health Hotline (213) 241-3840. Open weekdays 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is staffed by counselors and mental health professionals who can provide support in English and Spanish. Teachers can also call and get advice on how to connect their students to services. Questions can also be emailed to

Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (800) 854-7771. Open 24/7 for all mental health services.

2-1-1 Hotline. The central source for all health and human services support in Los Angeles County.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline English: (800) 273-8255 Español: (888) 628-9454.

Teen Line Text “TEEN” to 839863 between 6:00pm-9:00pm PT to speak to a teen.


Posted July 15, 2020 at 9:55 a.m.

Scroll to Top