I’m writing to correct a false association being perpetuated in the Bemidji community.

During the public participation portion of recent Bemidji school board meetings, several speakers arguing against a mask mandate in schools quoted statistics indicating that rates of mental health issues have increased among children.

They suggested rates of depression, anxiety and suicide are higher now than before, implicating face masks as a cause. School board members were told they would be harming children and “destroying lives” with a mask mandate.

This is a problem. Connecting mental health issues to mask requirements is inaccurate and dangerous. Yes, mental health problems are up. Yes, kids were depressed and anxious last year and many are again this year.

As a licensed psychologist and a mother, I don’t take this news lightly. But it’s not because they have to wear masks. It’s because we are in a pandemic.

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It’s because they were isolated at home, they missed out on important aspects of social development, they struggled with trying to learn at home with limited preparation and inadequate resources. Kids were impacted when their parents lost their jobs and couldn’t pay the bills. Some lost family and friends due to COVID.

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COVID-related mental health challenges are not because of masks; they are because of the struggles that come with a global pandemic. And if we don’t get a better handle on this virus, we are at risk to be back in isolation like last year.

The best way to prevent COVID from negatively impacting our children’s mental health is to do everything we can to reduce the spread -- get vaccinated, wear masks, avoid large gatherings.

Some of the people yelling the loudest about concerns for their kids are ones who have resisted public health guidelines and are contributing to further the spread and keep the pandemic going.

Some children do have health conditions that make masks difficult or impossible to wear, and there should be exemptions for that. And no, I don’t love that my kid has to wear a mask all day.

Of course it's not ideal. But it’s a small price to pay in order to stop the spread of this virus, prevent unnecessary deaths and get our lives back. Masks aren’t causing mental health problems, the pandemic is.

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